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Stress: Impact on Children and Teens (II)

By Dr. Andrea Porter, PhD, C. Psych.

Stress in Elementary School-Aged Children 

This is the second of three articles discussing stress in children and adolescents. In our previous posting we explained stress, and here we examine its impact on elementary school-aged children. 

Children can react to stress in the family as well as experience stress in their own lives. Tension at home, from divorce or significant life changes such as a new stepparent or the arrival of a new sibling, can be troublesome for children. Although interactions with friends, classmates, and teachers can be positive social connections they can also be sources of fear and anxiety. Being aware of the signposts of stress can help parents foster a healthy home environment. Creating low-stress environments in the home, assisting children in developing positive coping strategies, and enabling children to let their stress out are actions supportive caregivers can take. Finding sources of inner strength as well as learning these skills early in life can prepare children for later years.

Signs of stress in elementary school aged children

Six- to twelve-year-old children are more independent and physically more active than they were in their preschool years. Friendships are more involved, and they are learning to think in more complex ways. A child's self-esteem can be fragile and can change rapidly depending on what is happening around them.

Children in this age group can be self-centered, and their feelings are easily hurt. Although they are beginning to develop empathy, they can casually hurt another's feelings. While they are gaining awareness of others around them, children may expect too much of themselves and feel stressed when they think they have failed.

Common signs of stress for parents to be aware of: 

  • Complaining of headaches or stomach aches, frequent urination, and bedwetting.
  • Feeling unloved, acting withdrawn, and being distrustful.
  • Sleeping troubles, worrying about the future, and not caring about school.

Techniques for parents to follow:

  • Acknowledge your child's feelings and let them know mistakes are learning experiences.
  • Invite your child to let their feelings out by talking, laughing, or crying.
  • Be supportive and listen.
  • Keep calm and express your anger appropriately.
  • Encourage rational thinking.
  • Help them find physical activities or hobbies they enjoy and encourage participation.
  • Teach children relaxation skills such as breathing exercises, drawing, or writing.
  • Emphasize the importance of a healthy lifestyle by encouraging healthy eating and exercising. 

Building inner strength or developing resilience will help your child cope with the stressful situations they may encounter as youngsters, preparing them for more challenging conditions in their teen years and beyond. Resiliency helps a child cope by accepting change, being able to bounce back from disappointments which can support effective responses to an upcoming stressful situation. Developing resiliency in childhood can better ready them for the rollercoaster of the teen years. Supportive parents or other positive and nurturing adults in a child’s life are crucial to enhancing the capacity to bounce back and thrive in the face of adversity. 

Resilient children are better able to withstand peer pressure and avoid drugs, alcohol, tobacco, etc. Resilient individuals can learn to more effectively resist social media influencing them to look or behave in a certain way. Developing a child's inner strength gives them the emotional and mental tools to stay healthy and happy throughout life. 

The last article in this series will look at the impact of stress on teens. 


Citations

How to help children and teens manage their stress. (2019, October 24). American Psychological Association, URL: https://www.apa.org/

Healthwise Staff (2019, December 16). Helping Your Child Build Inner Strength. HealthlinkBC. URL: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/

Healthwise Staff (2019, December 16). Stress in Children and Teenagers. HealthlinkBC. URL: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/

In collaboration with: Vic Gladwish, Gladwish on Demand Editorial Services.