Stresfull events

Stress in childhood

While caring about all children, it is especially important to take care of those who have experienced more stressful events during their development or who have even had traumatic experience.

Both in adults and in children stress is recognised as emotional reactions (sadness, anxiety, panic, mood changes, anger…), cognitive reactions (self-criticism, impaired concentration, forgetfulness, intrusive thoughts…), physical reactions (palm sweating, heart beating, flushed face, abdominal pain, headache…) and behavioural reactions (crying, stamping, aggression, uncontrollable fits of rage, withdrawal…)

Examples of stressful events in childhood:

• staying outside home

• fear of being punished by teachers

• worries about relations with peers

• worries about school achievement

• fear of not being taken into some group important to the child

• fear of being different from others

• worries about physical changes in the process of maturation

• parental divorce

• moving to another city

Consequences of stress may be alleviated with other factors in child’s life. Children who develop good relationship with one or both parents, who have experience of good academic achievement at school and maintain relationships with their peers are less likely to develop psychological disorders. Developing good relationships with others generally protects against stressful situations.

What helps children in stressful situations

• healthy relationship with at least one parent or adult

• developed social skills

• developed problem-solving skills

• ability to act independently

• at least one developed coping strategy

• experience of self-respect and personal responsibility

• ability to focus attention

• developed interests and hobbies

Children can be supported in coping with stress both in the family and at school. The best support are parents who listen to and hear the child, friends to talk with and who help the child thinking and searching for solutions.

How adults can help the stressed child

• Pay attention to your child – in various situations, especially when s/he has had arguments with friends, enuresis, poor concentration…

• Encourage your child – try to be positive, show your child that you care

• Acknowledge your child’s feelings – it is important that s/he knows it is all right to be angry, scared, lonely

• Name your child’s feelings and help him/her talk about them

• Help the child in seeing the situation in a positive way – some stressors shame your child and shame effects on self-confidence

• Organize activities which stimulate cooperation and not competition – this helps your child to participate at his/her own pace and stimulates the development of social skills

• Initiate the participation of parents, family members and friends – it can be in the form of reading together, encouraging of opening up and mutual listening

• Ensure regular talking in a safe environment – family members, groups, class, in comfortable situations in which they like to share feelings, experience, fears… This way adults can learn about the child’s methods and help others with the experience

• Organize various physical and sports activities

• Develop healthy dietary habits of your child

• Teach your child how to relax

• Teach your child that to err is human and that mistakes are a part of learning

• Together with your child create rules for various situations in the class, in the family… Agree on the consequences together.

• Talk with your child about how to proceed in difficult situations, talk about what s/he might do, ask your child for opinion

• Tell and read stories about coping with stress

Although at some stages of development children may have similar reactions to disturbing events, the fact that children are very different should also be taken into account. While caring about all children, it is especially important to take care of those who have experienced more stressful events during their development or who have even had traumatic experience. It is also important to have in mind your child’s individual characteristics, the support each child receives and aggravating factors in the environment which make the child more vulnerable to stress.

Stress at school

Considering the situations which may be stressful for your child at school, the sum of circumstances and their effects on the child should necessarily be taken into account:

• physical conditions – what is the space for children like and how big it is, temperature, noise, if too many children occupy it

• teachers’ personality and behavior – if individual differences among children are being respected, if teachers support the feeling of belonging, trust and safety, what the emotional climate looks like…

• how stressful the environment is – if uncertainty and unsafety are common, if there is a possibility of being injured, if there is bullying in that school, how the problems are tackled, if there is a defined procedural protocol for crises management

It is important that school staff take care of their mental health and coping skills in problematic situations because these effect on children’s lives. Teachers who participate in prevention programs in schools have lower absenteeism, improved approach to teaching, feel more encouraged in what they are doing, take better care of their health and satisfaction. They also become positive role-models for children and their parents. Mental health care (and health care) of teachers includes knowledge about relaxation techniques, eating habits, communication skills etc.

Stress prevention at school

Knowledge about stress in childhood and its effects on individuals’ future life justifies the introduction of prevention programs in schools. Within the existing stress prevention programs, literature most often suggests:

1. acquiring coping strategies

2. focusing attention on the importance of mental and emotional health as part of prevention programs

3. designing quality programs of physical education

4. incorporating stress prevention programs into other courses (literature, humanities, sciences, arts)

5. professionally competent school staff and professionals’ availability to children and parents (possibility of psychological counseling, support for families, health care, the importance of providing meals, etc.)