Stressed Out Kids

kids at school

“I worry every day on little things. I talk about most of my worries to my parents. One of them is my dog leaving. She almost got away once. This year I have a lot more worries than last year. The holiday season is coming up and I’m wondering if I’m going to get any presents at all.” –Jonathan, Sixth Grade

What are young kids stressed about? More than what we may think. The American Psychological Association just released its annual Stress in America survey, which reveals the causes of stress for children:

“The survey of 1,206 young people and 1,568 adults, conducted over the summer by Harris Interactive, found that parents underestimated the level of stress children feel and the causes of that stress, often thinking that family relationships or activities cause more stress than children say they actually do.”

It turns out that parents assume that the only thing their children may be worried about is having too many activities in addition to school. However, in reality school-age children’s greatest concern was actually school. Psychologist and author of KidStress, Georgia Witkin, conducted a survey of her own in 2000 and had similar findings as a result:

“They were afraid kids would be on overload. That wasn’t even on the kids’ radar. They said the only stressful part of all the activities is that ‘my mother gets so stressed driving me around.’”

A large percentage of parents in the survey had misdiagnosed the source of their children’s stress. Sixty three percent of the 235 parents believed that their stress levels had little to no influence on their child’s stress levels. They were wrong.

“44% of young people say doing well in school was a source of stress
30% worry about their family having enough money
10% felt pressure over their extracurricular activities
8% say relationships with their parents were a source of stress”

How can we help ease kids’ stress? Katherine Nordal, a clinical psychologist and executive director for professional practice at the American Psychological Association, first offers some insight to parents:

“Younger children tend to blame themselves for problems. If the kid doesn’t know what’s going on, they’re likely to assume a worst-case scenario or make a problem bigger than it is.”

Then she offers some much needed advice; Nordall suggests that parents be honest about the problem, whether it be financial or marital, and explain that they are working on it. She also urges parents to make spending time with the children a priority, as that will reveal how they are handling the problems and stress they are dealing with. In addition, Nordall makes a gives a couple of insightful observations about how children deal with stress:

  • Know that headaches, stomachaches, lack of appetite, trouble sleeping, and lack of interest in activities are common manifestations of stress in children.
  • Realize that children who tend to internalize problems rather than act out are more at risk of becoming depressed and anxious because of stress.

We all know that everyone deals with stress at some point. However, it seems a little more heartbreaking to think about children worrying about the things we worry about. Thankfully, we can hold their hands through the process. And, somehow, I get the feeling that helping them will actually help us.

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