Children and Stress

The economic downturn, a war, swine flu - lately it seems like stress is in America's air. According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, at the end of 2008, almost 60 percent of Americans reported they were struggling; and a small percent reported they were suffering.

While it is important that we keep ourselves mentally healthy during times of stress for our own well-being, it is also very important to remember that our stress can impact our children. Stress for children can cause anything from a difficult nights sleep to delays in learning. Even very small children can be impacted by a stress-filled environment.

The Mental Health America Web site gives the following tips on how to keep ourselves and our children emotionally healthy and stable:

  • Limit kids' exposure to worries: Try not to talk too much about your own fears when the kids are listening, and consider turning off the TV news. You may think your 5-year-old tunes out adult topics, but he may hear just enough to spark his active imagination.
  • Share honestly but appropriately: Secrets can be scary. You certainly don't want to overwhelm your child with information, but it's probably best to share some of your family's financial situation. Take a reassuring approach by pointing out any areas you know are stable, such as staying in the same school despite any other changes.
  • Economize in a way that's clear and fair: If you need to scale back on your children's after-school activities, letting them pick from a few options may decrease their disappointment. You might also consider less-expensive options at local community centers and libraries too. And don't forget to show kids that you're cutting back on some of your own "extras" as well.
  • Keep predictability high: Kids like routine. Make sure your child's day includes exercise to burn off energy, soothing nighttime activities and, above all, some special time with you. Children crave attention, and if they're not getting it in positive ways they may get it by acting out.
  • Let kids contribute: Even little kids can help around the house to ease your load. They also can donate old clothes or toys to a local shelter. Helping out builds self-esteem and a child's sense of effectiveness in the world.
  • Get professional help if you need it: If you're having trouble parenting - or dealing with any of your other day-to-day responsibilities - a mental health professional can help you learn new coping skills. Some sources for finding therapists include your primary care doctor, clergy member or call.