Advice Column, Parenting

Stress in the family

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Family Stress can cause extreme anxiety in the child and it is complex with many different factors contributing to the feeling. If a child is resilient and has been taught the skills to recognize their parent’s emotions, they will be able to process the moment whilst keeping their own anxiety intact.

This relates to a number of variables but is primarily dependent on the kind of anxiety being experienced and whether this impacts on the child on a short or long term basis. The most common stressors for adults and children are related to the 3 D’s: death, divorce, dissertation. Loss of a family member through any of these can manifest in a sense of helplessness and lack of insecurity in the child. When the stress can have a direct impact on the child, then it is important to discuss this with them. The child however should not be made to feel guilty or become part of the solution and they should be allowed to express their feelings. The parent needs to be aware that there are 3 stress responses:

  1. Positive Stress Response – this is normal and is essential for the healthy development of a child. It builds resilience and elevates the child’s ability to deal with future stress. eg. going to the dentist or starting a new school
  2. Tolerable Stress Response – This can be caused by a variety of things which the child is unable to control such as natural disasters or being a victim of crime/accidents. When dealt with in a positive way, the child can recover from the stressful situation.
  3. Toxic Stress Response – Exposure to prolonged stress,  can disrupt the development of the brain architecture and can cause developmental delays, mood disorders, health problems, depression and substance abuse later on in life.

Stress in children can be measured by a variety of things and parents should be on the look out for : change in sleeping or eating patterns, increased aggression, concentration problems, overreacting to minor problems, lack of motivation, inability to control emotions, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, withdrawal. There are 7 key ingredients that a parent can teach their child to implement to prepare their children in dealing with stress: 1. Getting enough exercise, choosing healthy eating patterns, getting enough sleep, Positive leisure time/hobby, Education & goal setting, Communication & Asking for support when needed.

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