What is Stress?
Stress is a physical response. When we feel stressed, our bodies release a mix of hormones and chemicals like cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. These hormones prepare us to either ‘fight or flee’ and in the process can shut muscles and bodily functions such as digestion down.
Some small amounts of stress can be a good thing as they can alert us to danger and give us the energy we need to run away or even do things like prepare for giving a speech or doing well on a test.
But what happens when our bodies go into a state of anxiety or stress when we don’t need to fight or flee? It’s hard enough for an adult to handle unnecessarily stressful situations, so how can we help our children deal with unhealthy levels of stress?
Stress happens when we feel overwhelmed. Many children today have schedules that would make a professional athlete dizzy. Some kids don’t have time after school to have unscheduled playtime or to just relax and hang out.
What Are The Signs Of Stress In Children?
- Unusual physical symptoms. If your child is uncharacteristically complaining about things such as tummy aches, headaches, chest pain or fatigue, it might be a good time to see your primary care physician see if there is a cause for their complaints.
- Children, especially very young children, don’t have the vocabulary or knowledge to give you an accurate picture of what’s going on. They are unlikely to come home and tell you that they’re feeling “under pressure” or “stressed out”. Parents are advised to listen closely for words such as ‘worried’ or ‘angry’ or other negative sounding words that are new to your child’s vocabulary.
- If your child has no history of bedwetting and they suddenly start, it could be a sign they are experiencing undue stress. Listen to your child, let them know that you are there for them and if it persists, a visit to your family physician might help to find the source.
- Aggressive Behavior. Aggressive behavior in a child is never a good sign. An aggressive child is unhappy and stressed out child. This behavior is especially unsettling when the child is usually calm and sweet, but suddenly starts behaving like a little monster. Don’t lash out, rather talk calmly and try to get to the root of their anger and frustration.
- Interrupted sleep or insomnia and nightmares are a sign that your child is experiencing stress during their waking hours. Stress raises hormone levels that can make a child too alert to be able to fall to sleep peacefully.
You can talk to your family physician about stress management treatments as there are many things that can cause stress in a child. Things like parents divorcing, getting bullied at school, being overscheduled, failing at a certain subject in school and feeling like they will disappoint parents are all matters for concern.
Some things a parent can do to help with their children’s stress levels are to stop overscheduling them and let them have free time so they can play. Manage your own stress and teach your children how to listen to their bodies.
Let your children know it’s ok to make mistakes and learn how to ‘let it go and move on’. Life is too short to live in a state of constant anxiety.