Stress in Children: When should we be Concerned.

As parents most of us might recognize the level of stress in children to be at lower level or even insignificant when compared to what they experience. Several studies conclude that the concern about rising stress levels in children is not unfounded. Not only could children be worrying about examinations or making friends or being popular amongst their peers but they could be facing situations of adjustment in new environment with family moves, family relationship issues, social media pressures, prevailing global terrorism threats or even grief of losing someone close. Therefore it is not surprising that the “stress” that we once could see as unavoidable part of life that could bring out positive outcomes is to be viewed with caution as it could cross the boundary of tolerable level even if there is supportive and caring environment provided by adults.

It will be worthwhile to ask ourselves “How will we know that it is getting difficult for my child to handle the stress level? Children especially the younger ones may find it difficult express their worrying thoughts that have the potential of manifesting as anxiety disorder. These unhelpful negative thoughts can produce certain changes at physical level or emotional level or even both.  Physical symptoms could include frequent headaches, vague pains, change in eating habits, bedwetting, sleep disturbance, nightmares and stammering. Emotional symptoms could include excessive worrying, withdrawal from friends and family, extreme behaviours like uncontrollable weeping, aggression, clinginess, trouble concentrating, development of new fears, keeping away from school activities, regression to early development behaviours and more serious self harm acts and ideation.

When faced with concerning situations most parents tend to reflect on their parental responsibilities. Many a times school is able to give feed back that could validate our own observations. An encouraging approach in communication that allows our child to share and express is needed here. A positive and rewarding technique must be an automatic choice over a punitive one. Setting unrealistic expectations is another aspect that needs to be reviewed. It is not uncommon to find children having a very busy and over scheduled itinerary day after day. Another alert is that it is our own stress handling mechanism that needs to be corrected many a time. Parents are the role models to children early in life and children don’t just adopt our good behaviours but are vulnerable pick up the unpleasant ones.  It is commonly known that children learn much from what parents are than what parents teach.

Simpler modifications like playing a physical sport together and spending relaxing time with our children is a good start to developing a positive and healthy relation that prevents stress to take deep root into the child’s life. There could be more challenging situations to work on like monitoring child’s access to media and setting boundaries for social media interactions. A more helpful approach will be mindfully providing entertainment choices that are more inclusive of the family.

As parents our goal is to be able to bring up healthy children who can make conscientious choices and live their life independently as responsible adults.  At times we may find it challenging to reduce the stress in children due to complexity of the situation, it is then our responsibility to seek professional help. A professional counsellor can help us explore different ways of looking at the challenge that gives a clearer perspective and awareness on resolving the difficulty. It is out of love and care that we acknowledge that we need to do things differently and it is through this journey that much learning and at healing happens to us parents alongside. Being a parent is said to be one of the greatest joys that one can get out of life’s journey that has an equal share of and challenges and fulfillment.

Neeta is a Counsellor trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and holds a Masters in Social Sciences (Professional Counselling) from Swinburne University, Australia. She has in private practice not only as a Counsellor but also as a Homeopath since 2006. She has been living in Singapore for the last 20 years and is now a Singapore citizen. She has been seen clients for various issues like stress, anxiety, relationship issues, grief, anger management and psychosomatic illnesses.

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