Intense and lasting stress may deliver a blow to a kid’s noggin; say researchers who found that a brain area linked to memory was smaller in children who had experienced chronic stress compared with their less-strained counterparts.
Children feel stress long before they grow up. Many children have to cope with family conflict, divorce, constant changes in Indian schools, neighborhoods and child care arrangements, peer pressure, and sometimes, even violence in their homes or communities. Stress can affect children’s physical health as well. Asthma, hay fever, migraine headache and gastrointestinal illnesses like colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and peptic ulcer can be exacerbated by stressful situations. The impact of a stressor depends on a child’s personality, maturity, and style of coping. It is not always obvious, however, when children are feeling overtaxed. Parents can help their children learn to keep the harmful effects of stress at a minimum.
Parents should monitor their own stress levels. In studies on families who have experienced traumatic circumstances such as earthquakes or war, the best predictor of children’s coping is how well their parents cope. Parents need to be particularly aware of when their own stress levels contribute to marital conflict. Frequent fighting between parents is unsettling for children. Keep communication lines open. Kids feel better about themselves when they have a good relationship with their parents. Children who do not have close friendships are at risk for developing stress- related difficulties; parents should encourage friendships by scheduling play dates, sleepovers, and other fun activities. Parents need to shape daily schedules with their child’s temperament in mind. Although children thrive in familiar, predictable environments with established routines and clear safe boundaries, their tolerance for stimulation varies. No matter how busy their schedule, children of all ages need time to play and relax. Children use play to learn about their world, explore ideas and soothe themselves.
Since we already know that parents’ marital and financial stress can hurt children’s development, a skeptic might ask whether the new study advances the ball. Eons ago, our ancestors boldly reacted to danger using the fight-or-flight response. Afterward, they celebrated their victory with cardiovascular dancing and chest-thumping. Moonlight dancing isn’t required to relieve your child’s stressed-out brain, but exercise, in its myriad forms, has remained the best tension relief for humanity’s offspring. As responsible parents and elders it is our responsibility to let children know that they need to enjoy life whether there will be happiness or sorrow. Courage and strength for this can be gained from many schools and teachers along with parents.