Resources For Families and Educators

Children and Stress

Children and Stress in NYC Children and Stress in NYC

The stress response in children represents an opportunity to teach healthy, adaptive coping strategies. Responding to stress is different than reacting to it. A stress reaction is when a child encounters a combination of internal and external stressors that trigger stressful reactions. The latter is usually automatic and based on habits of the past. A response, such as a mindful one, is a healthy proactive positive approach and alternative to reacting.

In young children this stress reaction can be a "melt down," a tantrum, or emotional dysregulation. In middle school aged or teenage children, it presents as sadness, anger, depression, and certainly anxiety. The automatic habit-based stress reactions are less healthy and we know this from a physiological perspective as studies have proved the effect stress reactions have on the heart, the brain, the circulatory system, pain management, etc.

Stress reactions bring on acute hyperarousal that leads to one trying to inhibit the stress reaction. This maladaptive coping lends to behaviors like over/undereating, hyperactivity, overworking, perfectionism, etc. This breakdown causes both physical and psychological exhaustion. Healthier, mindful stress responses increase arousal but one learns to be aware of the body (i.e., awareness and clarity of thoughts, breathing calmly, awareness of strategies to address emotions/problems). The latter all lead to more rapid recovery of stress and bring about a calming mental equilibrium. 

Children face various stressors in this time. There are world stressors that even younger children are of and this lends to pessimistic or worrisome outlooks to children (war, illness, global conflicts). There is stress that is caused from relationships and other people (family, friends, bullying, feeling excluded). And there is the stress of time and pressures from it; many teens and college age students are frequently sensing a pressure of time and the constraints of needing to do or be too much in a given time frame. 
The gifts of therapy that incorporate mindfulness strategies, practical stress reduction techniques, cognitive-behavioral approaches, and the opportunity for support-building can care create meaningful contributions to young people. More so, is the critical importance for parents and caregivers to learn these approaches as a means to encourage the growth of their children. With a more encompassed system that also addresses the school and the strong impact that the educational institution has on children's experienced stress levels this too can be most effective in bridging healthy ways of life. Many schools are approaching a growth mindset philosophy based on Dr. Carol Dweck's work and this has made most influential differences in the overall well-being of children and reducing stress reactions. 

For more information on this topic please consider:

Children and How Parents Can Respond to the Corona...
Interventions for Executive Functioning Challenges...

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