Stress refers to the response of the body towards straining challenges in life. Stress may occur from various types of life experiences or circumstances, mostly from uncontrollable circumstances, new or sudden experiences.
People deal with stress differently, this includes different coping mechanisms. Which can be affected by genetics, events experienced from young, personality, social and economic situations.
How does stress occur in a child?
Stress can occur from various experiences that the child faces. For example:
● Positive experiences, e.g. trying new activities
● Negative experiences, e.g. death of a relative
When the child encounters stress, stress hormones will be produced in the body. Fight or flight response will occur, and the immune system will be activated. Therefore, helping the child respond quickly to the situation they deemed as “dangerous”.
Stress can be a good thing for a child to experience, only if it does not cause too much stress. Too much stress will be harmful to children, leaving them to be consistently in a fight or flight mode, being overwhelmed or unable to cope.
What are the types of stress?
Stress is categorized into four types, known as physical stress, psychological stress, psychosocial stress and psychospiritual stress.
Physical stress refers to stress that changes the body biologically. For example, injuries, environmental pollution, illnesses, dietary stress, etc.
Psychological stress refers to stress that affects the emotions and thoughts. For example, it can be emotional stress (fear, anger, sadness), cognitive stress (worry, guilt, information overload) and perceptual stress (beliefs, attitudes, how they view the world, etc).
Psychosocial stress refers to stress that impacts relationships with others. For example, it may occur from difficult relationships with parents, the loss of loved ones and isolation.
Psycho-spiritual stress refers to stress that affects the child’s life. For example, it may result in them being sad doing work that is fun or finding no purpose in life.
What are the stressors faced by children ?
Stressors refer to the situation or changes that result in the child feeling stressful. This includes:
● Children worrying about results and work from school
● Too many responsibilities for children to deal with. For example, homework, tuition, CCA, and school.
● Facing issues or fights with their friends, getting bullied or pressure to do things by friends.
● Change of environment. For example, moving to other places, switching to a new school, homeless, or housing issues.
● Depressive thoughts to oneself.
● Biological changes to the child’s body.
● Financial problems faced by the family.
● Housing environment is dangerous and not safe for the child.
When children face stress, their behaviour and emotions tend to change. They might not be able to articulate their thoughts and feelings to others, nor be able to understand what they are going through.
In their eyes, they feel something is out of the ordinary, not comfortable to deal with, too unexpected and terrifying. Therefore, parents ought to notice their child’s behaviour and help them when the signs appear.
Common signs of stress in children are:
Easily angry or suffering from mood swings.
Not participating in activities they love.
Frequently worries about something.
Making complaints about school.
Tends to cry.
Displaying terrified reactions.
Refuse to let go of someone and stay with them regardless of situations.
Change in eating and sleeping habits.
Signs of regression. For example, the child may wet their bed even after they have been successful in their potty training.
Having stomach pain regularly (common).
Coping techniques help children to manage their emotions and behaviours when they are faced with stressful situations in the future.
The techniques lower the child’s emotions that are intense, where they are able to feel more in control over the stressful events.
The techniques are:
● Soothing oneself, getting in touch with the calming system in the body.
● Doing other activities that distract them from the stressful situation.
● Doing activities that make them experience positive emotions while dealing with the stressful situation.
● Doing activities that promote psychological exploration and clarity to their feelings.
● Practising mindfulness, focusing on the present and grounding themselves.
Unhealthy coping techniques should be avoided. Such examples are:
Dangerous behaviours to one-self
Unhealthy eating habits
Being aggressive towards others
Picking up bad behaviours to adapt with the stressful situation
Abuse of substances
Parents and caregivers should adopt habits that are healthy and teach their child coping techniques against stress.
● Talking about past experience dealing with stress
Parents or caregivers may talk about how they dealt with stress in their life, as well as the emotions they have felt to make it relatable to the child.
● Letting the child solve their issues and learning to listen
Children will not be able to deal with problems by themselves if the parents or caregivers often deal with the stress they face.
Parents should lend a listening ear instead of rushing to solve their problems. Stress that is easy to deal with ought to be done by the child, as they will gain self-confidence and be more willing to deal with their difficulties in the future.
● Teaching the child about media literacy
52% of the children (as young as 18 months old) are found to be exposed to electronics and digital devices in Singapore.
Contents that are not suitable for children, cyberbullying, and pressures from friends may occur easily and repeatedly.
Parents ought to teach them how to be safe while using the internet and social media platforms.
● Dealing with the child’s negative thoughts
Negative thoughts such as “I hate myself” or similar should be questioned by the caretaker or parents.
Instead of disagreeing, they should ask the child if the words are true, and ask them to remember the things they did well and had improved. Developing a positive thinking in a child helps them to be able to deal with stress in the future.
● Recognizing signs of stress in their child.
Parents should be observant of their child’s behaviour. They should avoid ignoring the issues faced by the child and be actively involved in their life.
● Knowing when to bring their child to a doctor
Parents should understand that not every stress can be solved through coping techniques against stress.
If the child is unable to deal with stress, or if their behaviours or emotions are worsening, the parents should bring their child to a doctor.
● Informing the child about future decisions and sudden changes
Letting the child know about the decisions that are made allows them to be prepared and be ready to move forward.
Informing the child about sudden changes is important as there is a time constraint. Within the short duration of free time, parents can help their child feel prepared and guide them in facing the stressful situation.
● Giving opportunities to the child for them to make decisions
When the child is able to make decisions by themselves, they will feel that they have control over their life. This helps them to gain self-confidence and allows them to solve problems by themselves.
Parents should seek help when their child becomes depressed, have increased difficulties dealing with school, issues interacting with friends or family members, inability to control their emotions and behaviours.
Parents may consider reaching out to a therapist. Which is helpful and allows the parents to discuss the feelings their child faces and what they can do to help their child.
I hope the information available helps you to understand more about the causes and the different types of stress faced by children. As this article may serve as an aid to help you recognize the signs of mental distress in your child and how you may help them.
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