Children under stress

2010-08-20 00:00

IT’S 3 am when I hear a tentative knock on my bedroom door. My 10-year-old peers into the darkness.

“What’s wrong, boy?” I ask, groping for the light switch next to my bed.

“Mommy,” he manages through his tears, “I forgot about a flowchart I was supposed to do for tomorrow and I can’t find my bag.”

3 am. 10 years old.

“You know Mom,” said my seven-year-old recently, “sometimes I get a tummy ache before school because I’m worried I haven’t done something that I was supposed to. And then I get to class and realise it’s all okay.”

Are our children under too much stress? I worry that they’re facing too much responsibility. Surely stress is something only adults experience?

Everyone experiences stress, even children. Apparently, not all stress is bad. A little can motivate us. But we have to get the balance right because too much stress can be harmful to our health.

A 2009 American study says that not only are children under stress, but as parents we aren’t noticing it. One of the results showed that nearly half of the children who participated in the study were worried about school, but only a third of their parents saw it as a problem in their lives.

I’ve talked about stress and worry with my children more than a few times. Mostly, it’s in the car on the way to school, after one of them has been complaining of a stomach ache. When we break the feeling down, we find that the stomach ache stems from something that’s worrying them at school, like a pending project or an oral that they have to prepare for.

I remember feeling stressed at school too. The thing you hate thinking about is making you feel bad and procrastinating makes you feel even worse. So is it the stress we have to manage, or is it actually procrastination that has to be dealt with?

Whereas I love the school my kids attend, I do sometimes feel they go a bit far with imposing discipline. They’ve devised a discipline system that involves handing out different colour paper slips that detail the pupil’s transgression and have to be signed by both the principal and the parent. My son experiences ridiculous levels of stress when he’s handed a pink slip — the one that signifies a detention stint on a Friday afternoon.

What gets to me, though, isn’t really the form of discipline. It’s the liberal way these slips are doled out for the smallest of offences and sometimes those that aren’t even the child’s fault. My son was recently sent to detention for not returning a slip that was supposed to have been signed by me. That was my omission because I was rushed that morning, not his.

What it comes down to, I suppose, is that we need to provide a disciplined and organised environment for our children, which would probably go a long way to reducing their stress. Ensuring that they check their homework diaries, their notices are signed and returned on time, and making sure they get to school on time are small steps we could take to help them cope.

Most of us have the skills to deal with our children’s stress. “The time to seek professional attention is when any change in behaviour persists, when stress is causing serious anxiety, or when the behaviour is causing significant problems in functioning at school or at home.”

— Parent

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