Stress in children – recognize the signs
It is very unusual for children to be able to verbalise feelings of stress. Instead, they show unhappiness or stress in their behaviour. Such behaviours aren’t always the expected ones, like illnesses and depression, but can range from throwing tantrums and telling lies to stealing. Here are some signs that may alert you to stress in a child:
Stressed children may complain of physical discomfort, for example, headaches and tummy aches. If doctors find nothing wrong, do consider fear and anxiety being possibly part of the reasons for these complaints. For example, Jan began to refuse to eat breakfast and said that he didn’t want to go to school.All of this started when his father left to work overseas a month or so ago and the stress of the separation caused his symptoms.
- Boys especially may show disturbed and disruptive behaviour.Adults may label his actions as being naughty or undisciplined but it is worth looking for other causes too.
- Other children may react to stress by withdrawing and being quiet.Their stress is difficult to spot because even their parents may not notice they have problems.
- Most children have difficulties talking about their mental stress. They don’t have the vocabulary or the ability to translate strong feelings into words.Conflicting emotions and thoughts make it even harder for them, for example, when they experience anger, jealousy, hostility and unhappiness with their parents, siblings or other people.
- Sometimes the cause of stress in children may be the parents themselves.These days, children are aware of the high rates of divorce so parental conflict may make them scared of a parent leaving them. While it may be healthy to argue superficially in front of your children (and so model conflict resolution), personal attacks on each other should be avoided and conflict over parenting styles or how to care for children should be private. For example, Bettie’s parents often quarreled over her upbringing and schoolwork. She resorted to stealing sweets from the local café in an attempt to distract her parents from their frequent arguments. Unfortunately, they misinterpreted her behaviour and punished her severely.
It’s natural for children to show emotional disturbances or behaviour difficulties from time to time. They suffer fears at certain ages that may be stressful for them; toddlers do throw temper tantrums that have nothing to do with real stress; teenagers commonly show defiance at some stage or another. But do be on the lookout and seek professional help
When your child is doing something that is not expected for her age and circumstances
- If the child is causing or experiencing suffering or a period of distress in his or her life
- Should you notice that the child’s ability to lead a healthy, normal life has been affected.
Stress in childhood can create much distress for not only the children but also for those who care for them. Severe stress left untreated can delay their physical, psychological, social and intellectual development. This in turn affects their ability to function in their daily life and may lead to underachievement at school and beyond.
Content of this post was based on information in the book ‘Help your child to cope’ by Dr C Yiming & Dr D Fung.