Expert Commentary...How Your Stress Affects Your Child

Getting back to school after a roller coaster of a holiday season was not easy for me. As I sulked in my interior soup, I began to realize it's harder even for the children I serve.


Replacing two teachers the first of December was not easy. Managing the intense Christmas season was really hard without familiar staff. Two days before Christmas we held our last day – a party day and Santa was a little post like. The children at school, under all this stress, were remarkably good.


At home, we expected our study abroad daughter to fly into Louisville on Christmas Eve. Her ticket was scalped, and she found herself stranded 8000 miles away. With some kindness from the UAE government, she flew home Christmas to be held ransom by fog. She arrived in Louisville Christmas night. We had been at the airport eight hours.


The day after Christmas, the furnace died at school.


After five days of vacation, my stress level was making me sick. Then, while cleaning my desk, I found a professional life stress scale written by David Fontana from the British Psychological Society, and I began to read it with a new interest. More than my own life, I began to apply the stress listings to a child's life.


What I found is that children suffer from the same stresses adults do, but three times as bad, because not only do they have their own stresses, they suffer from ours by watching us go nuts, and they suffer by not understanding.


Some of the stresses include a feeling you can seldom do anything right. How many children blithely say, “I can’t, I can’t,” and then take criticism from a teacher who under her own stress load thinks, “He can’t, he can’t.”  From a child’s perspective, the insurmountable problem might as well keep him down on the farm for the rest of his life.


How about feelings that you are hounded, trapped or cornered? How many children are labeled with psychological titles a grown person would be locked up for? Perhaps these kids are beleaguered by constraints of a non-family, no grow play place that makes them feel trapped by dull and cornered by stupid? Thinking you have to go to a play prison day after day is going to stress anyone.


Indigestion – now how is a child going to tell an adult he has indigestion? He is just going to bear it and suffer and say, "I don't want to eat," which brings us to the next listing – poor appetite.


Stressed out people – children and adults - have trouble getting to sleep as well as have an inability to unwind in the evenings. They wake regularly at night or early in the morning simply because they can't stop thinking about problems of the day or the day's events. How many children just can't sleep, can't rest, can't relax?


Lack of rest will ultimately cause other listed features like dizzy spells, palpitations, sweats, exhaustion, lack of energy, irritation, and nausea. How many things listed here can a child hope to verbally define?


Most very young children can't tell an adult what's wrong, but because they are fully human, they experience these things silently and suffer a lot. Look at the faces. A child who is tearful too often, lacks enthusiasm even for cherished interests, is reluctant to bring a new friend into his play, or says "no" too often, could simply be stressed out.


Big project for the New Year - make a child laugh. Take the pressure off for a little while every day. Make fun out of as many moments as you can. Stop for ice cream on the way home this week. Take time to bring home a candy bar from the drug store or the gas station just for the kids. Buy a puppet and make him say dumb stuff. Take the kids out to a movie and get a whopper popcorn or make a movie night at home when everyone gets into their pjs and all the blankets are dragged out and the lights are dimmed.


Good habits are formed by doing.