Stress is common to most of us, irrespective of age. In young children some stress can lead to a host of serious problems if not detected and cared for. However, not all types of stress are bad.
Types of stress
According to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, stress can be categorized into three distinct types:
- Positive Stress: Children experience positive stress, when they get excited. For example when they know that you or their dad are coming home, or meeting new people.
- Tolerable stress: A child can experience tolerable stress when they are frightened, or when they are separated from a caregiver for a short period of time. If tolerable stress lasts too long, it will turn into negative stress.
- Negative (toxic) stress: This is the type of stress is also called toxic, and you should ensure that your child doesn’t experience it too often, as it can lead to serious mental and physical problems.
Causes of negative stress
There are many causes of negative stress, but the most significant cause of negative stress are physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, or exposure to violence.
The effects of negative stress
A continuous reoccurrence of negative stress can leave a child with lifelong health issues because ongoing stress will result in constant production of cortisol, which can lead to a host of problems in a child.
The more prolonged and more intense the stress is at childhood, the longer and more difficult it is to get rid of the resulting psychological or physical health conditions that it causes.
As this type of stress is toxic to the development of the brain, negative stress can affect the ability of a child to think creatively and memorize effectively, two critical skills for any sort of problem-solving.
In extreme cases, stress has been seen to shorten a child’s lifespan.
Cues that a child is stressed
- Prolonged crying
- Legs and arms pushing away
- Looking away, instead of the eyes
- Throwing a tantrum
- Refusing to eat
How help your child to cope with stress
The most effective thing you can do if you think your child is exposed to too much stress is to really pay attention to your child’s needs and help them reflect. Young children cannot express their emotions and if they feel stressed and can’t turn to you for love or attention, the stress gets amplified and even more toxic.
A big hug and spending time with your child with your full and undivided attention is then biggest gift you can give.
Ketsupa Jirakarn (Mental health specialist) (31 March 2021)