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  • Writer's pictureP.E.T. South Africa

4 Common causes of stress in children

It is not always easy to recognise when a child is worried. Adults view children as happy and carefree - what could they possibly have to stress about? But the truth is that children hear, see, and sense everything around them, and just like any other human, they form perceptions (interpretations of what they are sensing). A child can easily interpret a harmless situation as negative and frightening, and without a parent to help them make sense or help them unravel the confusion, he/she can develop negative thought patterns that lead to distress.

Prevention is always better than cure. Although parents can't prevent every upsetting thing a child is exposed to, they can learn to become aware of the possible stressors and teach the child how to acknowledge and manage their emotions. Here's a look at some of the things that are most likely to cause stress in a child's world.

Separation from parent

The fear of being away from a parent is a normal part of the developmental process. But even if considered normal, a parent should not dismiss the anxiety it causes. As children grow up, they start to move around and explore the world around them. You'll find that a child that has a parent nearby will be more willing to explore because they can rush back to the figure they trust in this new world. You can't always physically be there for your child, but your child's perception of you as a beacon of trust can be. A child that has a secure trust relationship with a parent will be more trusting of the world - relieving feelings of anxiety.

Therefore, you must establish that trust bond with your child from a very young age. How? By reacting when your child is in distress, by being present in times of uncertainty, and by acknowledging the emotions the child is not yet able to communicate. You can help your child face an environment away from you by preparing them for the feelings and emotions to come. Discuss what is going to happen, who the child will meet, how the child is going to feel, and most importantly when you will be back. This will take time, and some days will be better than others, so don't lose hope.

*If your child’s separation anxiety is severe and interferes with your child’s life, consider seeking professional help.

Learn more about the attachment theory:

Source: Sprouts School

Media, games, and technology

Violent and disturbing images intrude on a child's safe space subconsciously. A child can't distinguish between what is real and what is not. And on top of that, a child often sees delinquent behaviour being rewarded via the media they consume. Confusing and destructive messages can cause distress. It can lead to irrational fears and doubts about the real world and result in a constant state of worry within the child.

You must establish boundaries on what media your child consumes and what games they play - an age limit has a purpose! Talk to your child about what he/she sees and hears, and be in tune with what they are saying so that you can help them to separate fact from fiction.

Illness and death

Currently, during the global COVID-19 pandemic, children are hearing constant talk of illness and death. While adults can look at a pandemic objectively, and within context, children look at it with pure emotion. They simply don't understand the statistics and numbers. All they notice is that the world around them is undergoing a big change. It's your role to help them understand the change.

Try your best to honestly explain to your child what is going on in the world. Keep it age-appropriate but honest. Let your child know that you understand his/her worries and don't dismiss his/her feelings as irrational or inappropriate. Create a safe space for your child free of judgement and ridicule that will encourage him/her to ask the uncomfortable questions.

Too much of everything

Mental and physical exhaustion can be caused by too many activities and too little play or relaxation. Parents only want the best for their children and we think that preparing them for success is best done by equipping them with the skillset and knowledge they'll need when grown-up. But by constantly prepping your child for his/her future, you could be forgetting about the now.

The pressure to perform can unlock unnecessary stress factors. Short-term behavioural changes - such as mood swings, lack of concentration, an increase or loss in appetite, changes in sleep patterns, or bedwetting can all be signals that your child might be in distress. Physical symptoms like a stomach ache is also a common indicator. It's time to reevaluate your child's day. Proper rest and good nutrition can help your child cope better. However, it is more important that your child spends time with you. You don't even have to talk, just being in the same space will help a child feel accepted without having to perform.

Help your child cope with stress by teaching him/her about emotions and talking about the things that cause these emotions. Together, you can come up with solutions on how to face challenging times.

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Disclaimer: The information contained in this communication is not to be construed as medical advice. Consult a professional on any medical or psychological concerns. The articles and blogs are posted only as opinion or ideas, and are general in nature. The administrator takes no responsibility for any action or outcome a reader may make as a result of reading a post.

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