Telltale Signs That Your Child Is Stressed

BY FRED CORDEIRO

Most parents are acutely aware of Singapore’s stressful education system and the rising costs of living. The life of children today is no longer as idyllic as what we recall of our own childhood.

Yet, as parents, it is natural to aspire towards greater things for one’s children. While this may come naturally to an adult who has overcome many stressful life events, it may be presumptuous to expect the same response from a child with limited life experiences, especially during this stressful COVID-19 period.

For an adult, stress is simply a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium, triggering a “fight-or-flight” response. A little bit of stress, known as acute stress, can keep us active and alert in the short term. But long-term or chronic stress can have detrimental effects on health.

Children’s coping mechanisms have yet to be developed. As such, poor stress management can escalate chronic stress into depression. In a depressed brain, the parts that scan for danger and respond to it are overly active. Perceiving threat comes easily, which makes withdrawal and isolation behaviours self-protective for a child.

The stressor could be as innocent as a casual fallout with close friends at school or growing apart from classmates due to school closures. To an adult, this event may be temporary and insignificant. But to a child, the stress becomes harmful to health when the event is ongoing or occurs frequently.

Over-activation of the nervous and stress response systems ultimately exhausts the brain and/or body and affects a child’s natural happy and carefree disposition.

For a child, their coping mechanisms have yet to be developed. As such, poor stress management can escalate chronic stress to depression.

Recognise the warning signs of stress in children:

Help your child manage their stress. But parents will need to determine if it is a problem- focused or emotion-focused problem?

A problem-focused problem relates to a current problem that needs to be managed by the child. You can help your child explore strategies to remove or reduce the stressor through problem-solving techniques, time-management skills and improving social support.

An emotion-focused problem is outside the child’s control and best managed by reducing negative emotional responses like embarrassment, fear, anxiety and frustration. Distraction through family and/or mindfulness activities are helpful stress management techniques for emotion-focused problems.

If symptoms persist, seek professional help early so that appropriate therapeutic interventions can be applied to mitigate depression. You can reach out to Tinkle Friend Helpline at 1800 274 4788, every Monday to Friday, from 2.30pm to 7pm.

The contributor is an Executive Director at Clarity Singapore.