One of the biggest challenges many people face today is how to handle stressful situations. Stress has been linked to many health issues, ranging from insomnia to high blood pressure, so it is critical a person learn how to manage their stress effectively. While most adults understand how stress affects their health, they may be unaware how the stress they experience affects those close them, especially their children.
Children are very observant, but most parents think they do a good job of shielding their kids from things that cause them the most stress. Unfortunately, many studies indicate this is not true: when 600 parents and 1000 children were asked how their parent’s job affected each child, the parents thought the kids simply wanted to spend more time with them and less time at work. In actuality, the children wished their parents were less stressed from work.1
Stress and the Brain
A parent that is dealing with unemployment, financial problems or other stressful situations can inadvertently take these issues out on their children. Without realizing it, a parent could become less affectionate, moody, and not as nurturing during these difficult times. These actions can affect their children in a variety of ways.
During adolescence, the body goes through many changes, both physically and mentally. For example, the cortical and limbic areas of the brain are still maturing, which can make them more sensitive to stress. Studies indicate prolonged or repeated exposure to stress can cause a heightened sensitivity to stress, which can have a negative impact on a child’s neurobehavioral development.
Many experts believe the following issues are the result of prolonged, unchecked stress levels on the adolescent brain2:
- Drug abuse
A study conducted by the American Psychological Association reported that children between the ages of 8 – 17 experienced the following health symptoms that were associated with stress in the month leading up to the study:3
- 38% had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- 33% had headaches
- 31% had an upset stomach
Contrary to popular belief, kids know when their parents are stressed, and it affects them as well. When parents suffer from anxiety, the kids may experience feelings of sadness worry and frustration themselves.3
Alleviating Your Child’s Stress
If you’re stressed, your child probably is too. Here are the top ways to help ease your child’s stress levels:
Talk about it. Not talking about the elephant in the room can only make things worse for children. Kids have active imaginations, and not talking about it can make them believe the situation is worse than it actually is. Be open and honest about how you’re feeling. Let them know what’s going on and that it will be OK. Sometimes, just talking about it can make them feel better
Note how you handle stressful situations. Kids know when their parents are stressed, and will observe how they handle that stress as well. Kids often emulate their parents, so it’s important for them to see them relieve stress in a positive manner. A great way to help the entire family relieve stress is by everyone participating in fun, healthy activities together:
- Going for walks
- Playing with pets
- Getting a hobby
It’s not just adults who experience stress, kids feel it as well. By keeping the lines of communication open, the entire family can deal with the situation and overcome it. Together.