As providers and caretakers, adults tend to view the world of
children as happy and carefree. After all, kids don't have jobs to keep
or bills to pay, so what could they possibly have to worry about?
Plenty! Even very young children have worries and feel stress to some degree.
Sources of Stress
Stress is a function of the demands placed on us and our ability to
meet them. These demands often come from outside sources, such as
family, jobs, friends, or school. But it also can come from within,
often related to what we think we should be doing versus what we're actually able to do.
So stress can affect anyone who feels overwhelmed - even kids. In
preschoolers, separation from parents can cause anxiety. As kids get
older, academic and social pressures (especially from trying to fit in)
Many kids are too busy to have time to play creatively or relax after
school. Kids who complain about all their activities or who refuse to
go to them might be overscheduled. Talk with your kids about how they
feel about extracurricular activities. If they complain, discuss the
pros and cons of stopping one activity. If stopping isn't an option,
explore ways to help manage your child's time and responsibilities to
lessen the anxiety.
Kids' stress may be intensified by more than just what's happening in
their own lives. Do your kids hear you talking about troubles at work,
worrying about a relative's illness, or arguing with your spouse about
financial matters? Parents should watch how they discuss such issues
when their kids are near because children will pick up on their parents'
anxieties and start to worry themselves.
World news can cause stress. Kids who see disturbing images on TV or
hear talk of natural disasters, war, and terrorism may worry about their
own safety and that of the people they love. Talk to your kids about
what they see and hear, and monitor what they watch on TV so that you
can help them understand what's going on.
Also, be aware of complicating factors, such as an illness, death of a
loved one, or a divorce. When these are added to the everyday pressures
kids face, the stress is magnified. Even the most amicable divorce can
be a difficult experience for kids because their basic security system -
their family - is undergoing a tough change. Separated or divorced
parents should never put kids in a position of having to choose sides or
expose them to negative comments about the other spouse.
Also realize that some things that aren't a big deal to adults can
cause significant stress for kids. Let your kids know that you
understand they're stressed and don't dismiss their feelings as