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Weston Dear Kristin, Elementary Stress

Questions are submitted anonymously and/or reflect issues that affect the Weston community.

Dear Kristin:

I am the parent of an elementary age child (K-2). I think childhood should be a free and easy time, but I worry more and more about stress affecting my child. What could cause stress in my young child’s life and what are some of the signs I should watch for?

A: There is so much stress in the world today, it certainly can affect children of all ages, even young ones. Quite often, we as adults don’t even realize what our children are exposed to. For example, a child may overhear the evening news in the home, or other children may be talking about recent world events. The stories they hear, and/or their confusion around it can be a stressor. A child’s stress will more than likely increase if they overhear adult conversations or arguments, including those about finances, the health of a relative, or their parents own stress levels. Even happy positive events in a child’s life can cause stress. This can include the birth of a new baby, a move, starting a new school year, or joining a sport or extracurricular activity. While there are many external factors, some of the biggest stress can come from within. This can include the expectations children put on themselves, and whether or not they personally feel as though they can achieve them.

Some signs of stress can include frequent headaches, stomachaches, or trips to the school nurse. Many children act out or throw temper tantrums. A normally outgoing child may become withdrawn, or want to be left alone more often. Some other signs can include picking up a habit suddenly, or re-starting a habit already thought to be broken. Some common habits are thumb sucking, nose picking, bedwetting and hair twirling/pulling.

While stress at any age is virtually impossible to avoid, there are some steps that parents can take to reduce the stress in their child’s life.

  • Be Available : Spend quality time with your kids! We adults are all busy, but children need to feel that a trusted adult is there for them—to listen, or simply be in the same room.
  • Talk about it : If it seems as though something is on your child’s mind, just ask! Often times, children are worried over something that they can easily be reassured about.
  • Anticipate potentially stressful events : A baby, a vacation, a trip to the doctors, whatever it may be (and it may be a good thing), talk to your child about the issue at an appropriate time. Keep in mind, though, that too much anticipation can also add stress.
  • If they won’t talk, talk for them: Share your concerns with them, it will let them know that they can turn to you if and when they need to talk about anything going on.
  • Trust your instinct, but know there is help out there. Parents have the skills to deal, they just have to believe in them. However, if a child refuses to talk at all, or if the stress is causing severe anxiety and a marked disturbance in functioning at either home or school, seek help from a mental health professional.

Some of these tips came from websites that can be helpful to parents about a variety of topics. The websites are:

www.kidshealth.org

www.positiveparenting.org

http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/child/default.htm

For more information, feel free to email Kristin Ferrara or call her at (203) 222-2585.

Kristin Ferrara has been the Director of Youth Services in Weston since December 2008. She has a master’s in Mental Health Counseling from Fairfield University and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Fordham University. Kristin welcomes all input from parents and other Weston residents on issues affecting youth and families.

Do you have a question for Kristin? Ask it here .