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How stress can affect your child, and how to help them cope

Toxic stress in children can be prevented by using a multi-pronged approach that includes both the parent and the child.

For many busy families, stress has nearly become the norm. Consider this: when was the last time your family – or any family, for that matter – spent an extended period of time together without feeling stressed or frustrated?

Although some stress can be positive and productive, too much stress causes us to cope in unhealthy ways, which have a negative impact on our general health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, stress is not limited to grownups. Children are also susceptible to stress and its consequences.

The side effects of stress

According to research, many South African children, particularly teenagers, report harmful levels of stress, appear unsure of their stress management strategies and exhibit stress symptoms in proportions comparable to adults’ experiences.

Stress during the adolescent years appears to have an impact on activity, nutrition, and lifestyle behaviours. Teens are affected by stress in a variety of ways. Some experience mood swings, fatigue, feeling weary or lying awake at night; while others report headaches, stomach cramps, bedwetting and insomnia.

Studies confirm that kids are less aware than adults of the impact stress can have on their physical and mental health. In fact, 42 percent of kids say they frequently don’t know what to do to manage their stress or are unsure if they are doing enough.

Stress is dangerous. It can decrease your child’s immunity and raise inflammation in the body (therefore increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease later in life). When a child is constantly under stress, the likelihood of obesity, diabetes, heart issues, cancer, and other disorders increases. Furthermore, their chances of depression, alcohol misuse and dependence, smoking, teen pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted disease, suicide, and domestic violence grow dramatically. Their proclivity to be more violent or to become a victim of violence also increases. Because of the numerous dangers of stress, it is critical that parents help their children learn techniques to handle stress in a healthy and productive manner.

How to help your child deal with stress

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to stress management, a combination of behaviours can help us all cope better and improve our general health and wellbeing.

  • Staying physically active, exercising, and sitting less can help to reduce your child’s stress. Finding activities that your child enjoys, especially those that take place outside in the sunshine, can improve their mood and help their hearts stay healthy.
  • Encouraging your child to eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods from all of the fundamental food groups – whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein foods, low fat dairy, and healthy fats – during the day and at regular intervals can help keep their blood sugar levels stable and provide mood-boosting and other benefits.
  • Connecting with other children on a regular basis, as well as laughing and meditating, can all help your child.
  • Ensuring your child gets enough sleep by maintaining regular, consistent bedtimes can also help prevent fatigue, which can contribute to unhealthy habits in children.
  • If you feel your child is unable to cope, there’s no shame in seeking help from a trained health professional. Ask your child’s healthcare provider for a list of recommended professionals who can help your child cope better with stress.

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