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Childhood stress is not uncommon: You just have to know how to deal with it

A child can get stress too. Our expert, Dr. Anamika Dubey, Madhukar Rainbow Children's Hospital, shares some tips to help you recognize the signs and how to deal with it.

"Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see." - Neil postman

A child's overall health is incomplete without good mental health. Mental health is how we think, feel, behave, cope and function in various domains of life, which is intrapersonal, emotional, social, interpersonal and so on. Childhood stress is common and children too feel unhappy, anxious, fearful and angry. They may lack concentration, be forgetful, impulsive, have difficulty in controlling anger or fights, etc. if their mental health is hampered. Stress is an inevitable part of life. Children too can face stress in any environment that requires him or her to adapt or change. Some amount of stress is normal and, in fact, required for survival. But too much of it can be bad for health.

There can be positive or negative changes that can lead to stress in a child's life. For example, going to a new school and starting a new activity are some positive stresses that can help a child develop new skills, adapt to the change in environment and eventually deal with dangerous and intimidating situations. Children also learn to respond to stress as they grow and develop. Childhood stress caused by negative changes such as illness or death in the family can affect the way a child thinks, acts and feels. But prolonged and excessive stress can be harmful and can lead to serious health effects. Dr. Anamika Dubey, Senior Consultant, Pediatrics and Neonatology, Madhukar Rainbow Children's Hospital, shares a few tips to help you recognize the signs. She also tells you how to cope with your child's mental health issues.

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STRESSORS FOR CHILDREN

Stress can be caused by internal or external influences that disrupt a child's normal state of well being.

Internal stress factors

These include illness, pain, hunger, fatigue, having negative thoughts about themselves, going through bodily changes. Childhood trauma has a serious impact, which may persist throughout life.

Externalstress factors

There are many external factors that can cause childhood stress. A few examples include

  • Worrying about grades in school
  • Changing schools
  • Problems with friends, bullying or peer pressure
  • Violence at home, monetary problem in the family
  • Witnessing parents go through a divorce or separation.
  • Unsafe home or neighborhood surroundings,
  • Physical / sexual abuse, neglect, racial or / ethnic disparities
  • Illness and hospitalization, natural disasters
  • Maternal and paternal substance use

SIGNS OF UNRESOLVED STRESS IN CHILDREN

Children may not recognize that they are stressed. Any new or abnormal behavior may lead parents to suspect stress level in a child.

Physical symptoms

Some of the physical signs that you, as a parent, need to look out for include

  • changes in eating habits, (eating more or less)
  • sleep disturbances
  • headache
  • new or recurrent bed wetting
  • nightmares
  • Vague gastrointestinal issues
  • other physical symptoms with no physical illness

Emotional or behavioral symptoms

You may also notice some changes in your child's emotions and attitude. These include

  • irritability, moodiness, crying, whining
  • not able to control emotions
  • aggressive or stubborn behavior
  • agitation, anger, worry
  • inability to relax
  • new or recurring fears (fear of dark, fear of being alone, fear of strangers)
  • clinging to family members, unwilling to let parents out of sight
  • doesn't want to participate in family or school activities

HOW PARENTS CAN HELP A STRESSED CHILD

You can help your child in many ways to cope with their stress and anxiety. Here are a few tips to recognise childhood stress.

  • Encourage your child to face his/her fears, not run away from them.
  • Talking to children about the experience to help them understand that it is okay to be stressed and scared and imperfect.
  • Focusing on positive aspects in their lives
  • Providing a safe, secure and dependable home environment
  • Family routines can be comforting. Having a family dinner or movie nights at home can help relieve or prevent stress.
  • Becoming a role model. Parents must keep their stress under control and manage it in healthy manner.
  • Encouraging and educating the children about sleep hygiene
  • Being careful about which TV programs, books and games that young children watch, read or play. News broadcasts and violent shows or games can produce fears and anxiety.
  • Promoting media literacy. In contemporary times, cyber bullying, peer pressure in social media are sources of mental stress in children.
  • Limiting screen time
  • Learning to listen to the children. Follow a 3-step rule listen, pause and talk. Don't be critical or try to resolve the problem right away. Work with your child to help them understand and solve what upsets them.
  • Encouraging your child to express his/ her anxiety
  • Building your child's feeling of self worth.
  • Involving your child in activities where they can succeed.
  • Using encouragement, reward and affection but no criticism and punishment
  • Giving the child an opportunity to make choices and have some control in their life, with guidance though. The more your child feels they have control over situation, the better their response to stress will be.
  • Encouraging physical activity.
  • Keeping your child informed of anticipated changes such as in job or transfers.

DON'T IGNORE THE SIGNS

Childhood stress is not uncommon. It indicates that all is not well with the child and issues should be taken seriously. Most parents, teachers and other adults are not sensitive to pick up small changes in behaviour and they often ignore or neglect it in children. It is only when the problem becomes severe that parents pay attention to the child. Seek help or advice from a health care provider, counselor, or therapist when signs of stress do not improve or worsen. NEVER GIVE UP. Our children are the future and our greatest treasure.

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