Stress in Children

Stress can affect children just as much as adults. Stress usually arises if a child is putting themselves under too much pressure or if they they are not able to reach demands or expectations of their parents.

There are a number of factors that influence the child’s ability to overcome or cope with stress. According to research, if a child has a good temperament, a high level of general inelegance (IQ) and a high self-esteem they are generally better equipped to cope with stress.

Research has shown that the vulnerability to childhood stress can be traced back to infant behaviour. Babies who are active, inquisitive and sociable with good motor skills and co-ordination are thought to have an increased resistance to adversity and stress later in life. Children who appear withdrawn with poor co-ordination could respond to stress with behaviour difficulties and potentially psychiatric illnesses such as anxiety, depression or delinquency.

There is a gender difference in the prevalence of childhood stress, girls have been found to be less receptive to stress than boys.

Symptoms of stress in children

Symptoms of stress in children can include insomnia, often children who are suffering from stress are unable to relax and have interrupted sleeping patterns. In order that a child can grow, develop and function optimally sleep is essential.

There has been a substantial amount of scientific study examining the relationship between the amount of sleep a child gets and their behaviour and psychological wellbeing. One study examined 297 families with children between the ages of 5 and 6 years old, the researchers found that those who slept less than 9 hours a night had between 3 and 5 times more chance of being diagnosed with attentional and behaviour problems such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or showed symptoms of other psychiatric disorders.

Another symptom of stress in children can be changes in weight. Children who are stressed may either eat more or loose their appetite, this has also been shown to be linked with sleeping patterns. A research study conducted by Bell and Zimmerman in 2010, examined the link between sleeping patterns, stress and body weight in children less than five years of age the results suggested that children who had less than 10 hours of solid sleep a night were twice as likely to be overweight or obese when examined five years later.

Research has also specified that in order to manage a child’s stress levels and maintain a healthy weight, the bedtimes and hours of sleep for young children need to be in tune with their biological clock.

How to reduce the impact of parental stress on a child

Children are hugely receptive to the physical and emotional wellbeing of a parent. Research has shown the importance of protecting a child from the negative impacts of stress.

A continuous and honest relationship between parent and child needs to be maintained. An optimal relationship would address the emotional requirements of the child particulally ensuring the child is aware that any changes in parental behaviour is not as a result of them. A healthy and stable child needs to be brought up in a secure and loving environment especially during periods of change and stress. One cause of stress for a child may be as a result of parental divorce.

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