Senin, 01 Juli 2013

Stress in Children



ADD, ADHD, OCD, Bipolar Disorder, and other behavioural disorders are being diagnosed in our children more frequently today than ever before. Interestingly, a common underlying symptom of all these disorders is stress, and combined with a hectic lifestyle, trauma, and the demands from parents and teachers to achieve, our children are having to deal with pressure very early on in life. Unless we manage the amount of tension our children are living with, stress could very well reach epidemic proportions with the risk of youngsters growing into depressed, hyper anxious adults with a distorted perception of reality.

Identifying, that a young child is stressed is not easy for parents and teachers to do, as often stressed children are seen as defiant and 'naughty' and the more adults try to control the unwanted behaviour the more resistant the child becomes. Recognising, that when your child is acting out they could be responding to stress is crucial in understanding what your child needs and how to go about meeting those needs. Because stress is a perception and everyone perceives an event differently, what is stressful for your child might not be something you consider stressful. Try to put yourself in your child's shoes and consider what they are feeling. Always take your child's feelings seriously, and acknowledge their feelings, helping them find the words they need to express themselves.

Signs that your child may be stressed are: Difficulty following instructions and concentrating. Angry, aggressive, disobedient, clingy and impulsive behaviour. A stressed brain releases adrenaline and cortisol to help the child cope. These chemicals create a heightened state of tension or the 'fight- flight' response as it is called, and limits the brain to surviving rather than thinking. A constant release of these chemicals will over time alter the wiring of the brain reducing a child's IQ. Stressed children are highly sensitised to the environment, fearful, lack confidence, and experience difficulties problem solving, and thinking creatively.

Life provides many challenges that our children have to overcome and we cannot protect them against all the stressors out there, but as parents there is a lot we can do to manage our own anxiety and consciously eliminate the tension we create for our children.

Looking after yourself and finding ways to release stress is vital to easing anxiety in your children. Children are very perceptive and will mirror your feelings. Gentle exercise, deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and speaking to someone you trust about your feelings are excellent ways to manage your own stress and also help your children manage their stress. Also, take time to do something you enjoy which gives you passion and refuels you. Create a peaceful, quiet home by lowering the tone of your voice and slowing down the pace of life. Pledge to stop fighting in front of your children, as well as threatening them with punitive discipline and withholding love, all unnecessary ways you may subconsciously be causing your child constant worry. Children tend to blame themselves if there is tension in the home.

Be vigilant of what you say in front of your children especially when describing a situation. Using dramatic words such as "horrible, awful, horrendous," can create unnecessary anxiety for your children. Avoid discussing family finances and traumatic events in front of your children and shield them from violence on the news, and age restricted movies.

Role model appropriate ways of dealing with stressful situations. People who have been successful in life tend to have the ability to overcome difficulty and keep moving forward. Frame a traumatic or stressful event for your child and then focus on ways of surmounting the problem. At times it may also be necessary to provide professional help in the form of play therapy for your child.

Limit your expectations of your child. Rather encourage them to find their own talents and passions, than fulfilling your dreams. Children's self esteem is developed when they feel accepted for who they are and are able to obtain mastery over things, so give them a rich environment to explore and encourage free play. Spending time in nature helps calm the soul. Promote free expression through art, music, dance and sport, all ways of releasing endorphins, or 'feel good' hormones. The parent should be a safe, soft place a child can come to for support when the outside world becomes too stressful. Release oxytocin in your children by hugging them daily and letting them know they are loved by you. A deep connection with others is known to buffer humans against stress, so consciously focus on keeping the connection with your children strong and loving.

Provide a healthy diet rich in proteins, magnesium, essential fatty acids, vitamin C, fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and water, and ensure your little one is getting between 8 and 10 hours sleep, depending on age to provide the brain with everything it needs to combat stress.

Be sensitive to times of great change such as when a sibling is born or they begin nursery school. These can be very traumatic events for youngsters, and they can respond to the stress by being clingy, regressing or displaying separation anxiety. Being compassionate, patient and supportive during this time will help your child to feel safe and secure.

As South Africans we also need to consider how we can assist the many children living under tremendous daily stress. Poverty, ill or dying parents, emotional and physical abuse are all taking its toll on our children and the future societies of our country. By involving our children in community work, offering support and assistance where we can, we can play a significant role in creating a more peaceful society for all.

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