Big Stresses for Small People
Stress is no longer a problem that just plagues Type A adults. It has spread to children, sometimes even before they begin school.
As adults look back on their childhood, they often remember it as being a time of fun, a time of little stress. They had a carefree spirit and no real worries. Have they forgotten, or have times changed? Regardless, the small world of a child today is often filled with a tremendous amount of stress.
There are three basic types of stress:
- Developmental, or normal, stress—is caused by normal childhood experiences, such as separating from parents as infants, going to school, or adjusting to puberty.
- Critical stress—involves stressors that do not occur in every child's life but are fairly common, such as moving to a new home or family financial problems. They are often more critical to a child's well-being than developmental stress.
- Catastrophic stress—is caused by serious unexpected events, such as a serious illness, death of a family member, disasters, or abuse. Children are at high risk for this type of stress.
Stress can result from information overload. You can help by limiting the amount of time your children watch TV, listen to music, play video games, and surf the web. By having these information sources located in a central part of the house, you can supervise what your children are hearing, and talk with them about anything that might be upsetting.
There are a variety of stressors that children experience at school. For preschoolers, it is the anticipation of the first field trip or simply a change in routine. For young school-age children, it may be riding the bus, being picked last on a team, or feeling left out at recess. Teens will often experience stress over tests, projects, friends, or peer pressure.
The family can be both the reliever of stress, as well as the cause. Changes such as a move, a new sibling, adjusting to a step-parent or step-siblings, disharmony among parents, and sibling rivalry all contribute to the stressful world of a child.
Expectations From Parents
Parents are aware of the competitive world we live in and want to prepare their children to succeed. However, there is a risk involved when children are expected to perform a task before they are developmentally ready.
Children may be put at risk for short-term stress and long-term personality damage if they are under too much pressure for the wrong purpose. This can happen when a child plays a sport for social interaction, but is too young to understanding the concepts of competition and winning. Early age-appropriate instruction is beneficial without the competitive aspect attached to it. For example, your child should take swimming lessons for safety, but not for how fast they can swim laps in a pool. Adding early competive behavior before the child is ready can have long-term negative consequences.
When a child is balancing enrichment programs, sports teams, private lessons, and household responsibilities, they are living a lifestyle that is better suited for adults. The need to achieve in each of these areas can result in burn-out, cheating, and/or fear.
You can best prepare your child for the world by being aware of the child's developmental stage and unique capabilities. Encouraging and supporting them to reach their potential within each stage will foster self-confidence and an on-going motivation for success.
Last reviewedDecember 2013by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.