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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Understanding Childhood Stress

As adults, many of us deal with stress on a daily basis. Due to our maturity, we also have behavior and other patterns that are in place to help us deal with the changing level of stress in our lives. Children also are affected by stress without having the advantage of having these established patterns. As a parent, you can teach your child how to deal with stress effectively and eliminate the possibility of long-term damage to the child's emotional state.

Childhood stress is divided into three categories. The first category is defined as normative or developmental stress which is classified as being low risk. This stress is caused by normal everyday situations and is part of the experience of growing up. Some examples of sources of this kind of stress in infants and toddlers include unfamiliar faces and surroundings, loud noises, and separation from their parents. As you see, these sources of stress are unavoidable and most children will become accustomed to them after a period of time.

For school age children, some sources of low risk stress could involve things like the arrival of a new sibling or starting school. As a parent, you can help your child deal with the stress in these situations by talking to them and being supportive. Encourage them to express their worries and concerns. If the child knows that he can talk to you, much of this stress will disappear.

The second category of childhood stress is critical or moderate risk stress. Examples of sources of this kind of stress in toddlers include overhearing their parents fighting, a lack of stimulation, and overstimulation. In school age children, this type of stress could be caused by moving to a new home. This level of childhood stress is a little more serious and you may need to call in outside help to aid your child in dealing with it. Your family doctor can give you suggestions about how to deal with stimulation issues. As for making a big move, you should talk openly with your child about his fears and concerns. Point out the advantages of your new home and try to emphasize how much fun it will be to make new friends.

The third category of childhood stress is catastrophic or high risk stress. This stress is the most serious and can leave permanent emotional scars on a child. Examples of sources of this type of stress include the death of a close one, the destruction of the child's home by a disaster, a divorce, and child abuse. You should seek professional help for your child in these situations, as you are probably dealing with the stress also. In the case of a death or a divorce, you should fully explain to your child the situation and the outcome. Your child will realize that something is wrong and the truth will be far less dramatic than the possible conclusions that he may draw on his own.

When dealing with your child's stress, you should try to remember what it was like at their age. Keep the lines of communication open and positively address any fears that he may have. By helping him deal with stress as a child you can help him to begin to put in place those protective behaviors that he will need as an adult.

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