Webster’s Dictionary defines stress as “a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc.” According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, some stress can be positive (in that it helps one develop the skills needed to cope with different situations in life) and some stress can be negative. Negative stress causes anxiety that can affect the way we think and behave. Negative stress can even affect our health. And, although we think adults more affected than adolescents or children, anyone can experience stress. As parents, we should be aware of the situations that can cause our children stress and carefully watch for how stress presents itself in our children.
Stress can be caused by a natural disaster (like an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, or wildfire). It can also be the result of bullying, poor grades, or what our children hear on the news (school shootings or other community/world violence such a terror attacks). Symptoms of stress can commonly include:
- Feeling sad or frustrated
- Feeling fearful, irritable, angry or guilty
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- Reduced interest in usual activities
- Wanting to be alone
- Loss of appetite
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Nightmares or bad memories
- Reoccurring thoughts about an event
- Headaches or stomach problems
- Increased heart rate, difficulty breathing
As a parent, it’s our responsibility to help our children cope with stress. Talking with our children about a stressful situation can help alleviate their negative feelings. Monitoring their exposure to an event (what they watch and hear on television reports or in adult conversations) can help bring a rational balance to the situation. Other suggestions for helping your child cope with stress can be:
- Maintain a normal routine – Ensure they wake up, go to bed, eat, etc. at the regular time. This brings a sense of stability.
- Encourage expression – Take the time to talk with and listen to your child. This will let your child know his that his fears and worries are understandable, and his thoughts and feelings are important to you.
- Watch and listen – Any change in behavior can be a sign that your child is having trouble coping or coming to terms with an event or situation.
- Reassure – Let your child know how your family, the school, the community is taking steps to ensure his safety.
- Connect with others – Make an effort to talk with other parents, teachers, school counselors, health professionals, and anyone else who can help give support in the effort to ensure your child’s well-being.
Recognizing the symptoms and being able to help your child cope with the stress in his life can turn a negative situation into a positive developmental experience. Read more about stress and how to help your child cope with it on one of these sites: