Typically, when adults feel stressed, the usual retort is “I feel stressed” or “I need a break”. But when younger children use words like “I am scared”, “I feel confused” or “I am sad”, it’s time to read between the lines as kids don’t use the S-word or have the vocabulary necessary to convey their feelings and emotions. Preteens and teenagers may utter dismissive sentences about themselves like “I can’t do anything right”, “nobody/no one likes me” or “I have no friends”. And before you ask “can children be stressed?” the more important question is what do they worry about as a significant number of parents are way off the mark!
According to a report by the American Psychological Association (APA), the largest scientific and professional organization of psychologists, scientists, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students in the USA, about 20% of children worry a great deal. But that’s not all!
An online survey by Harris Interactive, a digital consultative custom market research agency in the US, conducted a Mind/Body Health public education campaign with 1,568 adults and 1,206 children aged 8-17 years. Surprisingly, the survey found a considerable gap between what children actually worry about and what their parents think is stressing the kids. Moreover, these symptoms and stressors go largely unnoticed.
The survey revealed that kids stated that they worried about their grades or performing well in school, gaining admission into good colleges and the financial condition of their families.
- More than 1 in 3 children experienced headaches but only 13% of parents thought it was related to stress.
- 44% of children had sleeping difficulties whereas only 13% of parents thought their kids were having trouble sleeping.
- About one-fifth of the children worried a lot but a mere 3% of parents rated their children’s stress as extreme (i.e., gave it an 8, 9, or 10 on a 10-point scale).
- Around 30% of kids worried about their families’ financial difficulties whereas just 18% of parents thought that it was a source of worry for their children.
What may appear stressful to a 5-year-old child may not be worrisome to a teenager. For instance, potential stressors for preteens and teens could be peer pressure to try drugs and alcohol whereas physical signs of stress in kids involve nightmares and bedwetting. Emotional symptoms of stress such as mood swings and clinginess are easily noticeable pointers. But potential stressors for children of all ages include differences of opinion with friends, peer pressure, and balancing or struggling with homework or socializing.
Small amounts of childhood stress like an urge to do better in academics or sports are a normal part of everyday life and growing up. But when this worry leads to decreased academic performance, social isolation, and mental health issues, it becomes “toxic stress”. And parents are often the first to recognize the signs and help children develop healthy coping habits to alleviate childhood stress. Many times parents don’t know what to do and search for tools that promote mindfulness techniques and stress-busting activities.
When we write the stories for StoryMoment we touch on emotional challenges, nurture feelings of acceptance and develop a safe place where children can start talking to their parents about what happens in their mind. This could be direct or indirect, and we try to build a platform for both. Just like nutritious eating, reading, and any other habit that we believe will help our children grow into happy and healthy adults, developing the skills of awareness, inner observation and knowing how to express these in an accepting environment is crucial. Having said that, we always believe in creating exciting plots for children in our stories, help them spread their wings of curiosity and imagination, and find answers to stressful situations.