Americans are so accustomed to stress that a recent study finding 75 percent of adults feel moderate to high levels of stress would hardly qualify as “news” to most of us. My personal response to those figures was a simple, “eh, that’s about right” – even though I doubt my life at the moment could be classified as particularly stressful.
I am married with three young children, and there are certainly stresses that go with that. But on the whole, our family isn’t facing any major upheavals –the birth of a baby, unemployment, a big move, divorce, loss or sickness of a family member – that can really cause stress levels to spike. We are among the millions of Americans in the middle, who are going along to get along. For that, I feel incredibly grateful.
But do I also feel stressed? Yes. Moderately to highly stressed? Yes, often. For me, it’s the little things that pile up – endless housework; training our dog not to eat the window casings on the house; figuring out how to feed all three kids and be at one child’s band concert and another’s softball game at the same time; getting our kindergartner to sit down and do her homework; children bickering, etc.
While none of these are unbearable, together they create the buzzing environment that has become a fact of life in our household. The buzz grows louder or quiets slightly from day-to-day and week-to-week. When it gets too loud, I have learned to hit the tennis courts, listen to comforting music (the Wheat Pool’s Hauntario is my current stress-buster) or just entertain wild thoughts of moving the whole Still clan to south Saskatchewan.
Given that the feeling of stress has become normal for so many adults, it’s not surprising that most children and teens are also feeling moderate (or more) stress. In fact, more than 90 percent of the 1,206 kids participating in the study felt pretty stressed or worse.
What stresses out a child can be vastly different from what stresses out an adult. School, self-image and friendships make up most of youthful respondents’ stress factors. However, the study showed that kids are definitely sensitive to the fact that their parents are anxious – even though their parents may think they’re shielding their worries pretty well. Sixty-three percent of parents believed their stress-levels had little or no impact on their children, but about a third of the youth respondents were concerned about “family having enough money” and 36 percent of kids were more worried this summer than last summer (before the worst news of the recession and unemployment hit).
Overall, 31 percent of parents thought their children felt little to no stress, but only 9 percent of the children and youth reported little or no stress at all.
If the idea of your little ones feeling stressed out over your anxieties (and their own) leaves you feeling…well, stressed, the American Psychological Association (APA) has some tips to help.
First, parents can be on the lookout for indications that stress may be affecting their children. Just like adults, children who experience headaches, have difficulty sleeping or begin eating noticeably more or less than usual may be suffering from stress. Stomachaches, indigestion and irritability are other common signs.
When talking with children about stress, the APA suggests that parents start the conversation, listen actively to kids’ concerns, act as a role model in stress management and thoughtfully address children’s anxieties by giving age-appropriate information on the issues that are causing the stress.
Do you think your child is stressed? Do the findings in the study sound way off or about right to you? How do you help soothe your children’s anxieties? Do you use the same or different tactics to deal with your own personal stresses? Have you ever sought professional assistance to help your child deal with an unusual stress factor (i.e. death, divorce, etc.)? What are your best tips for helping kids (and yourself) handle the everyday stresses?