Stress is the uncomfortable feeling you get when you are worried, scared, angry, frustrated or overwhelmed.
Many adults think that stress is something that only adults have, but children also have stress.
Stress in childhood comes from many different sources. It may be from parents pushing their children to work harder on their schoolwork, sports activities or other extra curricular activities.
It may be from their friends exerting peer pressure to make them do things that they are uncomfortable doing. It may be from themselves with such pressures as “I need to lose weight, get better grades or make a better score.”
It also may be from watching parents argue, worrying about the neighborhood or world problems or feeling guilty.
The body reacts to stress by releasing a chemical (hormone) that sends a signal to the nervous system to turn on its emergency system.
This is a very important system that helps get us out of danger so that we can run faster, jump farther and climb trees faster. The same hormone is released with the “dangers” of exams, peer pressure, family problems or world calamities.
This causes the panicky feeling of racing heart, heavy breathing and sweating as if you are running from danger.
These panicky feelings are uncomfortable and cause some people to turn to some harmful ways of dealing with stress so that they can feel better even if it very temporary.
They are drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, bullying and fighting. These may make someone feel better for a short time but they can also mess up your life by making more stress.
Nobody can avoid all stress but there are ways that you can learn to deal with it. Dr. K. Ginsburg and M. Jablow in “A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving your Child Roots and Wings” have suggested methods to help to deal with stress.
First they suggest that you figure out what the problem is and make it manageable. It is better not to ignore it as the people who try to fix their problems are emotionally healthier.
If it is studying or chores, the best way to enjoy yourself is to get the work done first then you can have more fun. Otherwise you are worrying about the work instead of having fun.
Break work into small pieces and do one small piece at a time. This makes it less overwhelming. Make lists of things you need to do and check them off as you finish.
If the problem is a disagreement or fight with family or friends it is better to figure out what upset you and work to having an understanding.
Second they recommend that you avoid trouble. Stay away from the people who are a bad influence on you or make you feel bad.
Choose not to be around the people places or things that mess you up.
Third they suggest that there are some things you just can’t change, such as the weather, so don’t waste your energy worrying about it.
You can’t change the fact that teachers give tests but you can start studying. Save your energy for fixing the problems you can change.
By helping your child identify the problems that are causing them to have stress you can help them learn how to make those problems more manageable.
Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital, and Keith Bly is an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the UTMB Pediatric Urgent Care Clinics. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.