Coping With Stress
The traditional view of childhood
as a time of lighthearted bliss has given way to recent recognition that children are susceptible to a variety of stresses. Although the term "stress" is difficult to define, most of us "know it when we see it:" It's the feeling of being overwhelmed or threatened by more pressures and demands than we can handle.
One child's fun is another's strain. What constitutes a source of stress
varies among children. Some find the first day of preschool stressful, while others cope with it easily. The excitement of a birthday party may overwhelm some children. Perhaps it's the number of new faces or the level of activity or noise that requires too rapid an adjustment. One child may be stressed by changes in his daily routine, moving to a new home, or the birth of a sibling. These same events may strike another youngster as novel and enjoyable, and indeed, he may thrive on such stimulating fare. Trouble Signals
The signs of stress are not as difficult to define as the term itself. In the case of preschoolers, excessive stress may result in frequent illness, poor sleep patterns, persistent fussiness about food, excessive or diminished appetite, regression to earlier behavior patterns, poor concentration, heightened irritability, increased whining and crying, frequent day- dreaming, restlessness, excessive thumb-sucking, and frequent nightmares. Children suffering from stress may be antisocial and unresponsive to the friendly overtures of others.
Feelings of stress are rarely free-floating; they are usually reactions to particular events or circumstances. In cases when stressors persist -- such as when a child is subjected to constant nagging, disapproval, or criticism; frequent family
arguments; a tense household; or excessive demands for performance and success -- the feelings of stress can become chronic. Bouncing Back
Children differ in their resilience and in how long it takes them to bounce back after stressful life events. Some studies indicate that boys are more susceptible to stress reactions than girls. The reasons for this are not clear, they may be due to cultural norms that put more pressure on young boys than on girls to be brave and strong and not to cry or otherwise reveal their distress. Coping Strategies
Coping usually requires thinking though the alternatives at hand and trying to make the best of stressful circumstances. However, a preschooler's capacity to analyze and formulate strategic plans is very limited. Getting help is therefore highly dependent upon an adult recognizing warning signs in youngsters struggling with stress. Once the problem is identified, the adult can help by listening to the child's expressions concerning stressful events and situations and offering understanding, support, reassurance, and plentiful affection, holding, and cuddling.
A most important step adults may take to reduce stress on children is to attack the source itself. For example, if stress is a reaction to going to a preschool or day care center, it can help to let the caregiver know your concern, to ask her to watch out for what might be causing the youngster to feel stress, and to offer the child frequent reassurance. Young children need the kind of protection from excessive stress that only vigilant adults can provide for them.
Children seem to cope better with stress when they have a high sense of self-esteem, which parents can and should encourage, and when they are equipped with good verbal and problem-solving skills.
Finally, children also learn coping strategies by observing others around them. When adults exhibit calmness in the face of emergencies or other difficulties, children learn from this example and are less likely to pick up fears and more likely to be able to cope with their own moments of difficulty.
© 1989National Parent Information Network
Credits: Lilian G. Katz