Do you have fond childhood memories of carefree days without a worry in the world?
Unfortunately, today’s children are confronted with many different kinds of stresses than previous generations have experienced, and with the added impact of Covid-19 has only made matters more difficult.
Kristen Strahlendorf, Educational and Child Psychologist says: “Children have more stress today than we ever had, “Competitiveness, achieving in the school environment, social popularity, heightened by the ever more pervasive use of technology and social media – are a perfect stress-storm and unfortunately are often the start of a tipping point.”
Parents need to actively create an environment that reduces stress by realizing that they may pass their stress and anxiety over to their children.
This is why modelling and setting the right example is key.
Parenting is the first step
Parents need to try and keep their worries from their children and shield them from work, family and financial situations that are not age-appropriate. Strahlendorf cites “many of the day’s worries being discussed at the dinner table. Parents do not realise that they are transferring anxiety and stress to their kids indirectly. Divorce, grief and job loss, are additional conversations that children should not part-take in”.
The dinner table and family time should be just that. A time to enjoy conversations of the day.
“Parents need to model what it is to be resilient and handle stress. If you cannot control stress, your child will learn and emulate your behaviors”, says Strahlendorf.
Why is my child stressing?
Generally, stress is your body’s natural reaction to a challenge or perceived threat. The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When this response is working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert with the survival mode of “fight, flight or freeze reaction being triggered towards the “stress response”.
Experiencing stress from an early age can desensitise your body, increasing ailments and reduce the body’s immunity abilities.
“Children absorb parents stress and the stress around them like sponges”, says Strahlendorf.
These stressors can be emotional from poor self-esteem and low confidence levels, which can be based on physical appearance and social acceptance factors.
They can also be physical, from an inactive or overactive lifestyle. Social stresses can also manifest themselves covertly in the classroom or playground, through bullying, or low social acceptance. Majority of the time, stress in the school setting is tied to academic performance. This is were teachers, peers and parents place direct and indirect pressure on children to achieve within the classroom and on the sports field.
Strahlendorf pinpoints some signs and symptoms parents should be on the look-out for when it comes to stressing children:
- Memory problems
- Inability to concentrate
- Poor judgement
- Seeing only the negative
- Anxious or racing thoughts
- Constant worrying
- Depression or general unhappiness
- Anxiety and agitation
- Moodiness, irritability or anger
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Loneliness and isolation
- Other mental or emotional health problems
- Aches and pains
- Diarrhoea and constipation
- Nausea and dizziness
- Chest pain, rapid heart rate
- Frequent colds or flu
- Eating more or less
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Withdrawing from others
- Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
- Nervous habits (e.g. biting nails, pacing).
COVID-19 has added to anxiety and these stresses are real
The period of prolonged self-isolation and loneliness has had some effect on some while creating hidden anxiety. If your child’s behaviours have changed dramatically from pre-COVID, a mental health professional or educational psychologist should be consulted to assist in understand how COVID-19 or other triggers are affecting your child.
What can stress do?
Stress exposure can cause health problems including: high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity; depression or anxiety and skin problems (acne). Stress becomes a spiral effect, causing obesity that can result in skin problems which weakens your child’s self-confidence that may result in creating anxiety and depression.
“You need to break the cycle”, says Strahlendorf.
Your children need outlets to reduce their stress levels, through sport and extra-curricular activities, socialising and positive reinforcement.
Parents need to know what works for their child, as all children have different triggers, emotions and dispositions.
How to overcome stress and build resilience
Parents need to foster the building of resilience in reinforcing your child’s confidence internally and externally. Encourage the uptake of their natural aptitudes while strengthening their emotional intelligence (EQ) through emotional connections is key to bolster their defence against stress.
Allow children to take healthy risks, boosting their morale and independence while allowing them to take responsibility for their actions. This is where they will start learning and managing their stress independently. “Over sheltering your children may be a detriment to their stress defences, use this wisely”, says Strahlendorf.
Drop the chips, chocolates and fizzy drinks for healthy nutritious food, fruit and vegetables. This will give your kids more energy and vigour to battle stress face-on. Add in some exercise, for more oxygen and natural stress release to promote a healthy lifestyle.
“All children and adults are born with a bounce-back ability! Do not let stress damped your bounce”, says Strahlendorf.