In today’s fast paced modern world, the experience of life is assaulted upon by a relentless barrage of stress and pressure.

Mommy is rushing to get everyone out of the house.  Mommy and daddy are getting ready for work and I am hurriedly escorted out of my home onto the school bus. I arrive at school and spend the next seven to eight hours jumping from one subject to another. I have to keep my finger on the place and I am expected to learn, memorize, and understand everything that is being taught the whole day. When I finally get home, I have so much homework to do and I need to study for two tests coming up in a few days...  HELP!

For children, there is no escape.  At school the educational demands just keep rising. At home, too often there is tension. Many families are struggling financially and more often than not, require dual salaries to makes ends meet. The forty-hour work week is all but dead as fulltime jobs demand more and more time.  Being connected 24/7 exacerbates the problem even more. Responding to a work email at dinner can transform a wholesome family dinner into a distracted and disjointed affair.  Quality time with children is being interrupted by the “oh so important” text or e-mail.  Single parent households, with greater vulnerability to strain, are also on the rise. 

This is the current state of affairs in secular society. How do these issues play out in our communities and schools?

Our children attend schools with a dual curriculum and longer hours.  Aside from keeping up with the standard of the Department of Education, our kids have to cope with mastering an additional curriculum comprising a full set of information, language, skills and more.  Although this has always been the case in our communities, we should not take it for granted.

Our kids are under a lot of pressure.

 

Stress has been identified as one of today’s leading health risks.  Experts have been consistently warning us to take measures to reduce the stress in our lives. Stress causes all sorts of ailments, obesity, heart issues, and mental health problems just to name a few and that is in adults. Imagine what stress can do to children whose bodies and minds are still developing!   Whatever children experience during these crucial early years of development will affect them for the rest of their lives.

Adults are better positioned, and have more at their disposal, to mitigate the stress they encounter. If we have a job which is not working for us, we can take steps to address that and, if need be, try to find a different one. If we are dealing with a financial issue we can take action to try to better our circumstance. We have the ability and awareness to take action. Children are not in such a position. For the most part they are powerless to change their situation.  

They depend on us.  Are we doing our best for them?

When a child’s stress manifests itself in mental health issues such as anxiety it is often recognized and treated through counseling. But what about the child who is experiencing chronic stress and anxiety, but is “managing” to the point that her anxiety is not really noticed by adults? She keeps the stress bottled up inside. Living like this becomes normal for her. Of course this is very unhealthy and her problems will likely manifest in physical problems or other emotional problems later on.

According to National Institute of Mental health 25.1% of 13-18 year-olds suffered from an anxiety disorder at some point in their life.  

Given what we know about the detrimental emotional and physiological effects of stress and anxiety, that number is alarming.

School Vacations:

            “Kids have loads of vacation during the year, which should be enough to give them their much needed R and R.”  Such an argument is false. Once risk factors have been generated and unhealthy responses to stress has become part of a child’s psyche, problems will not just go away because the catalyst is no longer present. Habits that have been formed to cope with emotional issues and health problems that have manifested will not magically vanish because of winter break. Mental health issues can become a way of life. Once a disorder has been triggered he or she will struggle with it until it has been addressed and straightened out.  Mental and physical problems can also peak whenever a vacation is near its end in the anticipation of having to go back to school. Vacation from school does not save kids from stressful home situations that can exist either. 

Being aware of the long term detrimental effects of too much stress is the first step in addressing this issue. There are steps a parent can take to help mitigate some of the stress. A warm pleasant greeting when a child returns home from school will help ease some tension. A concerted effort to conduct more relaxed family dinners without interruptions will go a long way towards helping kids feel calmer and give them the opportunity to talk about their day. 

            Talking is a great way to relieve stress. If a parent gets the sense that his or her child is stressed out (see sidebar), it is important to take the time to encourage them to talk about their feelings. Simply getting the chance to express themselves and feel heard will be helpful for them. Better yet, is having someone who can help them strategize how to deal with whatever they are struggling with!

If your child still seems to be too stressed out or struggling with anxiety, seeking professional intervention can be the best way to improve your child’s emotional and physical health.

While stress in life for adults is at times unavoidable, being aware of the negative impact that stress can have on our children can help us, as parents, be more mindful about working to keep our own stress levels down. Children are emotional sponges. They absorb all the different emotions around them. If a parent is feeling stressed out, the child will absorb it and internalize some of the stress. Conversely, a child will absorb their parents’ calm feelings as well. Search for ways to reduce your own stress levels. Self-care is crucial to create a calmer environment in the home. I always remind parents that if the pressure drops in an airplane, you are supposed to put the mask on yourself first. If you're not okay you won't be able to help your child. The same is true here as well.  If you are not taking care of yourself, it is more difficult to adequately care for your child.  If you are unable to reduce your own anxiety and tension, outside help may be warranted. Talking to someone outside your personal sphere can be helpful in identifying ways to reduce your stress levels.

 

While the suggestions above may mitigate the problem for some children, the underlying issue of too much stress remains. Furthermore, not every child may manifest actual stress related symptoms, it is important to be mindful about the impact too much stress can have on every child.

Parents and schools are devoting a tremendous amount of resources to fix problems that are due to changeable home and education environment factors.

What can we do to cut back on the stress on our kids? How can we ease the tension at home a little? What is truly necessary for the education and growth of our students in school and what can be dialed back. After hours sitting in the classroom, how much homework is really needed?  Remember, for kids who have multiple teachers, twenty minutes of homework per teacher really adds up, and that's not even taking into account the multitude of tests a child has to study for.  How can we achieve the necessary academic requirements while still protecting our children’s emotional and physical health?  These are all questions that have to be answered on an individual level as every home and school situation is different.

            With winter comes more time spent indoors and less time engaging in stress relieving, outdoor activities such as bike riding, rollerblading, ball playing etc. To support our kids through these months and in every aspect of their lives, we need to identify areas in life where pressure and stress can be reduced and eliminated. 

Our children’s health depends on it.

 

(Sidebar)

Some indications that your child may be experiencing too much stress:

  1. Frequent complaints of stomach and or headaches after any medical issue has been rules out.
  2. Change in moods. Stressed out kids may act out more or withdraw.
  3. Change in eating habits, one child may eat more to self-soothe while another may lose his appetite
  4. Bedwetting or accidents during the day
  5. Overreact. Just like adults who are stressed out tend to overreacting to minor problems children will overreact as well.
  6. Trouble staying focused or concentrating.
  7. Engaging in self-harm.

 

Rachel Rosenholtz, LCSW-R has a private practice located in the Five Towns In addition to treating trauma and anxiety related issues in people of all ages, Rachel specializes in helping children and adolescents deal with school and social related issues.  Rachel can be reached at (347) 673-1953 and Rachel@InvestInTherapy.com. To find out more, visit her website - InvestInTherapy.com.