Many of us may be fortunate enough to recall our childhood experiences as being relatively ‘pressure-free’ compared to the demands of adulthood. However, we need to remember that children can feel the emotional and psychological pressures of certain personal and environmental situations and this can affect their physical and mental wellbeing.
What causes stress?
Stress arises when the demands of a given situation exceeds a person’s ability to effectively deal with that situation. These demands may come from a range of sources including family, work, friends or school. They may also come from within the individual – often related to what we think we should be doing versus what we are actually able to do. Other factors include age, gender, development, temperament, and parental models may influence a person’s susceptibility to stress and the effectiveness of coping abilities.
Stress in childhood
In childhood, the stress of separating from caregivers can cause anxiety. As children get older, social pressures with trying to fit in as well as academic pressures can cause stress. Childhood stress can also be intensified by more than what is just happening to the child in their own lives. Sometimes children can pick up on their parent’s anxieties and start to worry themselves. Children who see disturbing images on television or hear about natural disasters, war and terrorism may worry about their own safety and the safety of other people. More complex family issues such as the death of a loved one or divorce can also magnify stress due to changes in their family security system.
How can children deal with stress?
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that stress manifests itself due to the way that an individual relates to a certain situation, and not necessarily due to the sole existence of the situation at hand. In other words, some things may not be a big deal to some of us, but may cause significant stress to others.
The failure to recognise manifestations of stress and to assist children in the development of positive coping skills, may result in detrimental effects to their mental, physical, and emotional health. The ways that children learn to deal with stress in childhood will undoubtedly follow them into adolescence and may shape their coping patterns in adulthood. Ineffective coping mechanisms applied during these times may also be a significant risk factor in the development of psychopathology later on in life.
We can understand that the ways that children learn to deal with stress are important mediators of both current and future adjustment. If adults recognise the signs of overwhelming emotional stress and not-so-helpful coping strategies, then children can be taught more effective ways to handle adverse situations and manage stress in their day to day lives. Developing the capability to cope with challenges and the capacity to adapt to stressful situations can help children mature into healthy, well adjusted and competent adults.
Fun FRIENDS (for ages 4 – 7 years), FRIENDS for Life (for ages 8 – 10 years) and My FRIENDS Youth (for ages 11 – 15 years) are evidence-based programs delivered in Perth, Western Australia by Resilience Kit. These programs are designed to help children build emotional resilience by learning important coping and problem solving skills to practice in day to day life.