Childhood can be a stressful time. But what causes children to feel stress, and how can they deal with it? Watch this lesson to find out what factors impact how much stress a child feels, and what properties of resilience allow children to deal with stress.
Amber's mom says that Amber is high-strung. Amber isn't exactly sure what that means, but she thinks that it has to do with what happens when something bad happens. If, for example, Amber has a big school project, she gets so tied up in knots that she has trouble focusing and sometimes she even gets sick because of it.
Amber's twin brother Randy, though, never lets anything get to him. Even when their parents get mad at each other and yell, Randy just seems to shrug it off and go with the flow. He's the opposite of high-strung!
Amber and Randy are 10 years old, which puts them in the time of life known as middle childhood, which lasts from age seven to 12. There are many changes children in this age group can go through. Some are a normal part of development: they grow taller and become better at solving problems and puzzles. Others have to do with the world around them. The way that Amber and Randy's parents fight, for example, is unique to their situation and can influence how they develop.
All of these changes, both the ones that are part of development and those that have to do with the specific environment of the child, can cause stress for a kid. Let's look closer at how stress affects children and how resilience can help them get through stressful times.
Amber is really sensitive to stress. Sometimes she gets nauseated and suffers from headaches because she's so stressed out, and she has trouble sleeping sometimes, too. Her parents worry about her. Why does Amber seem to feel so much stress?
There are many things that can determine how stressful a situation feels to a child. Two influential factors in the magnitude of stress are the type of stress and how the child perceives the stress. The type of stress can have a big impact on how children react to it. Studies have shown that accumulated stress over time is more devastating than isolated big stresses. For example, the fact that Amber's parents fight every few days is harder on her than if they got a divorce and stopped fighting. Even if the fights are short and relatively small, their accumulated effects are not.
Besides the type of stress, the other factor in how children respond to stress and has to do with the child's interpretation of the situation. If a kid believes that a situation is a big deal, it becomes more of a stressor than if she believes that it's not. For example, Amber gets upset every time her parents fight. She sees it as a very scary and stressful thing, and as a result, she gets very stressed out about it! On the other hand, Randy isn't bothered by all the fighting. He figures that everybody fights, and it's not a big deal. As a result, he doesn't get stressed out the way that Amber does.
So we know that Amber feels more stress than her brother Randy. But does that mean that she's doomed to feel the effects of every stressful thing?
Stress can have many negative effects, including depression and anxiety, physical aches and pains, and a lowered immune system. As we've seen, Amber feels emotional and physical side effects of stress, like feeling upset and getting a stomach ache. But Amber doesn't have to suffer, just because she feels stress. Many people are resilient. Resilience is the ability to deal with the effects of stress and bounce back from stressful events. Three areas contribute to resilience:
- Personality: A person who is easy-going and has a high self-esteem tends to deal better with stress than others. For example, Randy is just more easy-going than Amber is; that's his personality. There's not a lot that Amber can do to change her personality. However, the other two contributions to resilience can be increased to help Amber out. They are:
- Family environment: A warm, supportive, and organized home is a key contributor to resilience. If Amber's parents can stop fighting, and if they can offer her support to see her through stressful times, they can mitigate some of the negative effects of stress on her and make her feel better.
- Support outside the family: Though the family is a key factor for resilience, people need a support system outside of their family as well. Amber can talk to her friends, a teacher, or even a counselor or psychologist. All of these people can help make up a support system to make her more resilient and help her through stressful times.
Middle childhood, or the period between ages seven and 12, can be a very stressful time. Two factors that can impact how hard stress is on people are whether it is accumulated stress, or one-time stress, and the child's interpretation of the situation. Resilience, or the ability to deal with stress, can help children deal with stress. The factors that contribute to resilience include personality, family environment, and support outside of the family.
When this lesson is done, you should be able to:
- Explain how stress affects many children in middle childhood
- Identify factors that cause stress and how resilience affects some kids
- Recall the three areas which contribute to resilience