Childhood Stress - Discussion, Symptoms and Intervention

This page discusses the issue of childhood stress.

Although many adults see childhood through an idealized lens, as a time of blissful carelessness and refreshing naiveté, it is not only possible for children to experience distress, but it has become an increasingly prevalent issue in recent years.

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A note about Childhood Stress - Discussion, Symptoms and Intervention

In natural health and healing, we believe in holistic health and healing, as we realize that different parts of the human body are highly interlinked, often beyond Man's understanding. We also believe that the body has the ability to heal itself of any disease, even supposedly incurable diseases.

In order to do so, the body needs the support of some basic dietary and lifestyle good health habits, such as a full body detox and a proper understanding and application of nutrition. No matter how remote or unrelated a health condition may seem, these fundamental health steps will greatly magnify the effects and benefits of any of our health-promoting efforts, including the use of specific natural health remedies.

Recent research suggests that many adult anxiety disorders have their root in childhood, and it has been suggested that most adults with anxiety disorders experience symptoms of anxiety or anxious episodes before the age of 11.

As our society has begun to place an increasing level of pressure on individuals still in their youth, the role of stress in their lives has increased as well. Expectations for children - from the growing emphasis on academic success, to social pressures, to the increasing importance of achievement outside the classroom - have started to mimic the responsibilities and sources of stress once thought to be reserved for adulthood.

Because stress has become a common problem amongst children only in recent years, childhood stress often goes unrecognized by parents and other adults close to the child. Furthermore, the fact that many anxiety disorders that appear to emerge during adulthood surface in children makes it crucial for these problems to be recognized and treated as early as possible.

Indeed, (untreated) childhood stress has been associated with a number of health problems later in life, including alcoholism, depression, eating disorders, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases. Some symptoms of stress, or more appropriately, distress (excessive and troublesome stress) include:

  • Short-term behavioral changes, such as mood swings, acting out, changes in sleep patterns, bedwetting, etc.

  • Physical effects, such as stomachaches and headaches.

  • Cognitive effects, such as trouble concentrating or completing schoolwork.

  • Observable behaviors
    - Thumb sucking, hair twirling, nose-picking
    - Lying, bullying, defying authority
    - Nightmares
    - Difficulty with separation
    - Overreaction to minor problems
    - Drastic changes in academic performance

Like most childhood issues, there has not been a great deal of research performed on childhood stress and anxiety. The lack of literature on the subject and the inherent unpredictability of children signify the need to be especially cognizant of the fact that the symptoms of stress are likely to differ from child to child.

Upon recognition of stress in a child, it is important to handle the issue delicately. A crucial step is analyzing the issue relative to the specific child's life. In particular, a major area of concern for childhood stress is that which is derived from neglect, abuse, and exposure to partner violence.

Fortunately, these issues are not particularly prevalent, and it is not uncommon for stress to develop from relatively "insignificant" issues. For many children, it can be helpful to discuss the potential source(s) of distress. For example, discussing what they feel is expected of them in extracurricular activities or academic settings - and how this makes them feel - may help to reduce the internalization that often produces feelings of stress.

Moreover, it is important for parents and other adults to consider how they may be contributing to the child's distress. Discussing "adult issues" or arguing in front of children can create an unhealthy level of anxiety and childhood stress.

It is of utmost importance for parents and others who frequently encounter children to understand that anxiety is not a problem exclusive to adults. The growing societal pressures placed on children have made stress an intrinsic aspect of childhood.

Of course, a certain degree of stress is not only normal, but can be healthy in motivating and driving children. In some cases, however, the stress may become unmanageable for the child, and it is very important to recognize the symptoms exhibited in these cases so that treatment can be implemented. Increased awareness of childhood stress has the potential to significantly reduce the incidence of adulthood illnesses and ailments.

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