What is Stress?Stress is a way that our body responds to the demands made upon us and our perceptions and interpretations of those demands. The very same event can affect children (and adults) in different ways—one person may see a carnival ride as thrilling while another may view it as terrifying.Stress can occur when one is unable to cope with a particular situation or when we believe that we do not have the ability to meet a challenge. Stress tends to be additive in nature and in children can result in inappropriate behavior, academic difficulties, and/or health problems. Parents often look back over recent events and are able to pinpoint the stressful situations.Common Symptoms of Stress in Children-Irritability or unusual emotionality-Sleep difficulty or nightmares-Inability to concentrate-Drop in grades-Toileting or eating concerns-Headaches or stomachaches-Unexplained fears or increased anxiety-Regression to earlier developmental levels (e.g., an older child who becomes "clingy")-Isolation from family activities or peer relationships-Drug or alcohol experimentation in adolescentsFactors that Help Prevent Stress-Learning effective problem-solving strategies and coping skills-Close, supportive relationships at home and school-Providing children with clear expectations-Developing competencies (academic, social, extracurricular, and
life skills)-Teaching children to express feelings appropriately-Good nutrition and exercise-Engaging in recreational activities-Time to relaxHow Parents Can Help-Be available and open to talk when your child is ready. If family
circumstances are contributing to the stress, be willing to
answer questions calmly and at a level that your child is able to
understand.-Encourage the expression of feelings.-Teach and model good emotional responses.-Encourage your child to tell you if he or she feels overwhelmed.-Encourage healthy and diverse friendships.-Encourage physical activity, good nutrition, and rest.-Teach your child to problem-solve.-Acknowledge that change can feel uncomfortable but reassure himor her that the family will be okay.-Do not hide the truth from your child. Children can sense their parents worry and the unknown can be scarier than the truth. However, avoid unnecessary discussions in front of your child (particularly a young child) of events or circumstances that might increase his or her stress.-Remind your child of his or her ability to get through tough times.-Monitor television programs that could worry your child and pay attention to the use of computer games, movies, and the Internet.-Limit the over-scheduling of extra curricular activities.-Monitor your own stress level. Take care of yourself!-Contact your child’s teacher with any concerns and make them part
of the team available to assist your child.-Seek the assistance if stress continues to be a concern.
Adapted from: "Stress in Children: Strategies for Parents and Educators," by Ellis P. Copeland, in Helping Children at Home and School II: Handouts for Families and Educators NASP, 2004.