Stress affects all of our lives, even the lives of children. As adults, there are many different things that can cause stress and anxiety such as relationship problems, divorce, problems at work, financial woes, and so much more. It can be hard to look at the life of a child and wonder how negative stress and anxiety can plague their lives. Things that may seem like everyday stressors to an adult can truly plague a child with anxiety.
Not all stress is bad. Both children and adults need a certain amount of stress in their lives in order to stay motivated and make progress towards their goals. Anytime when someone is asked to adapt to a new situation or take on a change in their life stress is likely to result. When these changes are negative, such as a serious illness or even a death in the family, stress becomes something negative. With children, this can easily take the form of anxiety and can affect a child both physically and emotionally.
They may feel that their safety and security is threatened, especially if they are suffering from an illness or injury. This is why it is important that adults in a child’s life learn how to recognize when a child is suffering from excess negative stress or anxiety, and why children themselves need to understand when things might be getting too difficult so they can figure out where to go for help.
When a child is experiencing excess stress or anxiety, it is usually up to the parents to notice the signs and to try and help their child work through their anxiety. Many parents like to think their child is strong – a real trooper. But there are many signs that can indicate that this is not the case.
Even when a child manages to “put on a happy face” physical and behavioral symptoms, such as loss of appetite, headaches, bedwetting, bad dreams, stuttering, and stomach pain are just some of the signs that they are not handling the stressors in their lives as well as they could be. A child may also start experiencing trouble in school or they may suddenly become obsessed with doing extremely well. Some children become clingy, may whine or cry more easily. They might become more withdrawn and may avoid spending time with their friends and may even begin acting aggressively even if they are typically a peaceful child.
In a perfect world, helping a child who is experiencing negative stress and anxiety might be as simple as asking the child what is wrong, having a good talk and moving on. But, all too often children do not understand that they are in a stressful situation. With nothing to compare their experiences to, they often think what they are experiencing is a part of life and can’t identify exactly what is “wrong.”
Fortunately, parents are not powerless when it comes to helping a child who is suffering from stress and anxiety. There are many ways they can frame the environment where a child lives and demonstrate appropriate responses to their own stressors in order to teach children to act appropriately when they are faced with a challenge.
To begin with, a child’s home should be consistent, safe, and secure. Special care should be taken to assure that children are not exposed to television shows that might trigger their anxiety or cause fear. This can include news programs that often focus on the negative rather than the positive. Stay aware and sensitive to situations that may cause a child undue stress in a child’s life an attempt to avoid them. When this is not possible, staying available can help ease a child’s anxiety.
It’s also important to develop a positive relationship with a child that is calm and reassuring and not overly critical. As for discipline, positive reinforcement has a better effect on children and is less likely to cause anxiety. Since so much of a child’s world is controlled by adults, it is easy for children to feel stressed and see themselves at the mercy of their parents and whatever decisions they are making about their own lives. Although relinquishing adult burdens on a child is not advisable, it is important to keep an open mind, as well as an open ear. Children should be encouraged to ask questions, and major changes such as a move or change in family status should be discussed openly and children should be given time and attention as they express any possible concerns about the change. When it is appropriate, allow children to have some control over what is going on both with their own lives and even small family decisions, such as what to have for dinner, can help them learn to respond to stress in a positive way. Encouraging a child to stay physically active is also a good way to help teach them to manage stress.
While parents and family can make a big impact on child anxiety, sometimes their efforts fall short. That’s when it’s important that children have the opportunity to speak to someone who has provided therapy to children with anxiety and can provide a fresh perspective on whatever the child is dealing with.
If your child has anxiety or stress, therapy may be able to help them.