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Helping Children Handle Stress


As children reach their school-age years, they may experience pressure from a number of sources.
These may be from within children themselves, as well as from parents, teachers, peers and the larger society.

This pressure can take many forms, to which children must respond and adapt. Whether these events are lasting,
like the divorce of their parents, or merely a minor hassle like losing their homework, these demands or stresses
are a part of children’s daily lives.

There is a silver lining that when children get the chance to practice setbacks at younger ages, they develop
resilience and the tools needed to be an independent adult and handle future challenges.

Dealing with stress in daily life
Children welcome some events and are able to adapt to them with relative ease. Other events may feel to them like threats to their own or the family’s daily routines or general sense of well-being. These stresses can be more troublesome.​
Most stress faced by children is somewhere in the middle: neither welcomed nor seriously harmful, but rather a part of accomplishing the tasks of childhood and learning about themselves.

Children may have to cope with a bully on the playground, move to a new neighborhood, a parent’s serious illness or the disappointment of a poor sports performance. They might feel a constant nagging pressure to dress the “right” way, or to achieve ​the high grades that can put them on rank toward the “right” college. Children may also worry about making friends, dealing with peer pressure, or overcoming a physical injury or disability.

Schoolgirl crying on background of classmates teasing her

Children are sensitive not only to the changes around them, but also to the feelings and reactions of their parents.
This is true even if those feelings are not communicated directly in words. If a parent loses a job, children will have to adjust to their family’s financial crisis; they must deal not only with the obvious family budgetary changes but also with the changes in their parents’ emotional states.

Good and bad stress
Not all stress is bad, moderate amounts of pressure from a teacher or a coach, for example, can motivate a child to keep her grades up in school or to participate more fully in athletic activities. Successfully managing stressful
situations or events enhances a child’s ability to cope in the future.

Children are future adults, and through these experiences, they develop resilience and learn how to deal with life’s
inevitable bumps and hurdles. However, when the stress is continuous or particularly intense, it can take a toll on both the psyche and the body.

Major events, especially those that forever change a child’s family, such as the death of a parent, can have lasting
effects on children’s psychological health and well-being. Minor daily stresses can also have consequences.

Sudden stressful events will accelerate your child’s breathing and heartbeat, constrict blood vessels, increase blood
pressure and muscle tension, and perhaps cause stomach upset and headaches. As stress persists, it can make a child more susceptible to illness and experience fatigue, loss of sleep​​, nightmares, teeth-grinding, poor appetite, tantrums,
or depression. Children may become irritable or their school grades​ may suffer. Their behavior and their willingness
to cooperate may change.

How stress can affect children
A child’s age and development will help determine how stressful a given situation may be. Changing teachers at midyear may be a major event for a child in the first grade and merely an annoyance for a sixth-grader. How a child perceives and responds to stress depends on development, on experience, and on a child’s individual temperament.

​How different children cope with stress
Children’s temperaments vary, and so can their ability to cope with stress and daily hassles. Some are easygoing by
nature and adjust easily to events and new situations. Others are thrown off balance by changes in their lives.

All children improve in their ability to handle stress if they:

previously succeeded in managing challenges and feel able to do so,

have a strong sense of self-esteem,

have emotional support from family and friends.

Children who have a clear sense of personal competence, and who feel loved and supported, generally do well.

Talk with your pediatrician about ways to help your child manage stress.

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