Childhood stress: causes, symptoms and treatment
Children also suffer from stress. The good news is that there are tools to help them.
Stress is usually identified as over-stimulation or intense events, which are identified with reactions or responses involving a high degree of activation and activity in the subject.which are identified with reactions or responses that involve a high degree of activation and activity in the subject, resulting in an imbalance between the demands of the stimuli and the subject's responses.
Stress is therefore understood not as an emotion, but as a process that responds to challenging environmental and social events. Daily stress can be defined as the demands and setbacks caused by daily interaction with the environment (Kanner, Coyne, Schaefer and Lazarus, 1981).
Lazarus and Folkman (1991) proposed a transactional model, known as the stress or coping strategies model, which relates individual environmental, psychological and Biological factors.
Coping styles are personal dispositions that we use to deal with different situations and circumstances that cause us stress. They are not good or bad per se, but are influenced by many variables.
That is, not all people are equally concerned, so stress is a particular relationship between a subject and its environment, and how it is evaluated by the latter; threatening, irrelevant or favorable according to its coping resources.
Stress during childhood: why does it occur?
During childhood, different events such as schooling, excessive family demands, academic demands, the birth of a sibling, separation or divorce of parents, etc., can be stressors for the child, which in some cases can overwhelm him/her and make him/her unable to adapt to them.
Studies on stress during childhood have focused on events and circumstances in the family environment such as conflicts, quarrels, separations, physical or psychological abuse, physical and cultural deprivation and others, which seem to be the basis of many of the psychopathological disorders and behavioral problems suffered by children (Adger 1991, Mestre and More- no 1992, Robson et al. 1993, Toro et al. 1983).
However, However, childhood itself is a period of constant change, which produces imbalancesthat produce imbalances between the infant and his or her environment. These changes can be viewed as stressors and it is important to understand how they affect their well-being and development.
Causes of stress in childhood
During childhood there are a large number of events, changes and conflicts that require the child to make a great effort to adapt and to mobilize all his or her coping resources to adapt to the changes he or she is experiencing.
In addition, depending on age, their conceptual and behavioral skills may be limited, such as mastery and awareness of the options available to them (Milgram 1993), and they are therefore more vulnerable to stress.
Among the variety of situations that cause stress to any child may be everyday events, such as schooling, where the child experiences separation from his or her main attachment figures, who, in addition, provide security and protection (Puyuelo 1984, Bowlby 1985). The lack of immediate accessibility to attachment figures may intensify the fear or feeling of threat in this new situation.
Family demands make a series of demands on the child that require a great effort of adaptation, at some point exceeding the child's capacity to assume them.At some point, they may exceed the child's capacity to cope with them.
Parents can become a source of stress for their children when they try to satisfy parental demands because they wish to obtain the recognition and attention of the attachment figures and thus avoid any conflict and frustration.
Another factor linked to these parental expectations is school performance that can overwhelm the child with the need to achieve academic milestones even if they exceed the infant's capabilities.
Vicarious learning, that is, learning by observing a role model, usually the parents as models for coping with stress. Teach our children to manage stress by acting accordingly.
There are also sources of stress as a result of life crisis events such as the birth of a sibling, separation or divorce of parents, loss of a parent, and intense and extraordinary events such as serious illnesses, and social aspects.
For all of these, children need to learn to draw on their own skills and abilities in order to adapt safely, reducing the harmful effects of the crisis.reducing the harmful effects of stress and anxiety.
Symptoms of stress during childhood
To detect the symptoms of stress it is essential to watch for certain behavioral changes:
- Irritability and moodiness without apparent cause.
- Stopping activities they used to enjoy.
- Excessive complaining about school.
- Crying or showing disproportionate fear reactions.
- Clinging to a parent or teacher.
- Nightmares, sleeping too much or too little.
- Eating problems.
- Headaches or stomachaches.
If these changes are observed, a professional should be consulted to assess and to evaluate and advise on the most appropriate course of action for the child's age to restore his or her well-being.
Treatment of stress in children
During infancy, adequate stimuli and affection guarantee neuronal development, which can form up to twice as much as will be needed throughout life.
Throughout childhood, we mature through interpersonal relationships and the emotions we experience. The capacity for emotional development facilitates the management of stress and derived emotions such as frustration, anguish and fear.
Managing childhood stress can be helped by maintaining good sleep habits and daily self-care routines related to eating and personal hygiene. These routines and good habits give them security, as it alleviates uncertainty.
In addition, the following the following recommendations will help the little ones to better handle daily stressors:
- Reduce activities that overstimulate the nervous system, such as tablet screens, cell phones and demanding sports activities at an inappropriate time for their age.
- Do not overload them with extracurricular activities and offer them a space to develop their imagination and creativity that allows them to explore their autonomy.
- Creative activities provide a space for self-knowledge, experimentation and cognitive development.
- Give them time to play, to socialize, to stimulate social skills that allow them to regulate their emotions.
- The practice of mindfulness during childhood is supported by scientific research showing that it promotes the development of skills such as sustained attention, learning and memory and language.
- Practice relaxation techniques appropriate to the age level of children. Such as yoga or mindfulness.
- And above all, devote quality time to them. Playing, having fun, listening to them, and relaxing with them provides them with an internal model of security and affection that will accompany them throughout their lives.
Are you looking for support to manage your children's stress?
There are many stressors to which children have to respond and adapt. All children improve their ability to manage stress:
- They face problems and are able to emerge victorious.
- They have high self-esteem.
- They have emotional support from their family and social environment.
Creativity, calmness and reflective capacity help children develop resources to transform stress.. If you are interested in having your son or daughter learn emotional regulation, social skills and relaxation techniques, please contact me.
My method for positive stress management is based on combining Art Therapy with Mindfulness for personal growth and enhance the innate creative qualities that facilitate the resolution of conflicts arising from stress.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)