Definition of Childhood Stress:
Stress can broadly be defined as a condition or situation that places a demand on the body's physical, mental, or emotional energy. Even though moderate stress disturbs the body's homeostasis as a person tries to cope with life's constant changes, it builds the body's immunity to some extent if properly managed. On the other hand extreme stress conditions, especially those experienced by children, can be detrimental to health in the long run. Childhood stress causes:
Children all over the world grow up suffering from mild to severe stress for various reasons—being bullied, falling out with friends, school tests, viewing violence on screen, domestic violence and with increasing divisive forces in the world, children are even teased and bullied for adult reasons such as caste and creed in some parts of the world. The rising influence of media influences children watching TV serials and fashion shows with skinny models, to live on adult levels prematurely.
Graphic details of terror and war leave some kids shell-shocked as while witnessing the Taj terror and the injured kids in the Israel-Gaza violence on TV. Concurrently it even spurs some of them to play violent computer and video games like Doom, Mortal Kombat
and the Grand Theft Auto (GTA)
Children face acute emotional stress because they are vulnerable and cannot wield control over a worrying or frightening situation that they fear can harm them. Some children experience acute physical stress when forced into child labor and made to perform difficult tasks that take a toll on their physical, mental and emotional health.
Be it the children of divorced parents or over ambitious parents, children of poor parents or orphans whose tender hands roll tobacco for beedis (cheap cigarettes), work in dungeons weaving intricate designs in exquisite carpets or double stitching football seams, or cleaning tables, mopping floors or washing dishes in restaurants, or doing manual labor in building sites or working in brothels to please pedophiles—the stress is definitely there, in varying degrees of intensity. Symptoms of Childhood Stress
Symptoms of stress include stomach aches, headaches, bed wetting, cold and sweaty hands, temper tantrums, depression, anxiety disorders, grinding teeth, irritability, nervousness, emotional withdrawal and many others. It is imperative that parents, elders or guardians recognize these stress symptoms and address the stressful situation so that the child gets to lead a normal, happy life. Stress from Environmental Factors
A study that appeared in the Nov/Dec issue of Child Development
found secure relationships with parents and teachers protect children from rising cortisol levels in stressful situations. The study suggested that care givers in childcare facilities sometimes increased kids' stress levels. According to medical experts the sudden spike in cortisol, a stress hormone
is of grave concern because frequent increase of cortisol levels can have a negative impact on health.
A study supported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in the Archives of General Psychiatry
, suggests that pathogenic effects of stress caused by a traumatic childhood experience including sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical and emotional neglect
can interact with other risk factors and trigger chronic fatigue syndrome
symptoms during adulthood by affecting the central nervous system, neuroendocrine system and immune systems.
Sociologist Dr. Michael Flood who co-authored a study titled "An Assault on Our Future: The impact of violence on young people and their relationships
" observed that watching a violent parent could damage a child's attitude and psyche even if the child was not at the receiving end of a physical assault.
Studying the biological responses of 208 primarily white, 6-year-old kids, scientists from the Universities of Rochester, Notre Dame and Minnesota, studied their saliva samples before and after telephone arguments between their parents and found that the children who were very distressed by the conflicts had increased levels of cortisol in response to their parents' fighting. Tips for Parents and Elders to deal with Child Stress
• Understand that children constantly observe elders and inappropriate adult behavior can confuse and stress children—for instance, while swearing at traffic snarls you could be passing on the tension to a child co-passenger
• Guide children to participate in interactive groups and meaningful activities to de-stress
• Introduce children to soothing music at a very early age
• While spending quality time with children create an atmosphere of trust wherein they can share their fears, anxieties and concerns
• Cultivate a sense of humor and teach children that laughter is the best medicine
• Never load children with too many after-school classes thinking it will benefit their future—it may ruin their present
• Let children learn that making occasional mistakes is a part of life and let them learn to forgive, from you
• If you have to criticize children, control your anger and help children understand the rationale behind the good behavior you expect of them
• Never burden your children with the task of fulfilling your dreams and ambitions
• Elders need to learn and demonstrate positive coping mechanisms so children can grow up emulating them
Inferiority complex, superiority complex, identity crisis and depression are some serious aspects of negativity that adults consciously or inadvertently thrust on children, robbing them the sweetness of their childhood. We owe the very best to children not just because they are the future of the world but because, in the words of Khalil Gibran, "Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself."