April 29, 2010

Never too young

2010/02/08    KASMIAH MUSTAPHA

Stress affects not only adults but children too, writes KASMIAH MUSTAPHA.
Children can get stressed out too.
Children can get stressed out too.
OVER the past month, Azman’s behaviour had changed drastically.

From a fun-loving 11-year-old who loves to play games and ride his bicycle with friends, to one who now prefers to stay at home.
At times, he refuses to leave his room, and is often irritated and sulky when his parents try to talk to him.

He even picks a fight with his brother and sister often.
His parents were at a loss of what to do as Azman refused to talk about his feelings.

When they approached his teachers, none could provide answers, although they too had noticed his change of behaviour.
Deciding that it was time to seek help, his parents took him to an expert.

Azman was diagnosed as suffering from depression due to stress.

It was revealed that he was stressed out at his new school.

His new classmates ignored him and he missed his friends from his former school.

This resulted in him falling behind in his studies.

As a child, the only way Azman could react to the changes was to show it through his behaviour.

While adults may think that children are stress-free, they could not be more wrong.

Stress is a normal reaction to an event or environment that is beyond a person’s control and just like adults, children too face it.

They would react to something that they do not have control over.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Aw Tui Iar said unlike adults, children react to their stressed situation through behavioural changes as they have no idea what they are going through.
To reduce stress, children should get involved in physical activities.
To reduce stress, children should get involved in physical activities.
“Even babies feel stressed when they can’t reach a toy, are left alone or want to crawl but can’t.

Their reaction is to cry.
“Of course, we don’t see this behaviour as being stressed.

However, this is their way or reacting when they can’t cope with the changes in their environment.”

She said older children react to stress by becoming more withdrawn, getting irritated easily, having mood swings and nightmares, bed wetting, falling grades and avoiding friends or refusing to go to school.

And in some cases, these manifestations appear much later.

The child may only show his or her reaction to an incident that happened three months ago.

Some parents may not even realise that their child’s behaviour is related to a past issue.

That is one of the problems in dealing with stress among children.

“While some parents may think the behaviours normal, they need to know that something is wrong when the child continues to behave in such a manner over a prolonged period of time.

“If the child is 10 and throwing temper tantrums like a five-year-old, you know that there’s something wrong with him.

I am saying that stress is not only a mental issue but also a physical problem.”
“The society they are living in now is so different.

Take the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia exam, for example.

We used to have only seven or eight subjects to sit for, now there are 17 or even 18.

Parents insist that their children do well and this puts the children under pressure to achieve success.
“For example, some Chinese schools give homework for all the subjects every day.

Sometimes the child has to stay up late to complete the work.

If they don’t, they will be punished at school.

These are the pressures children have to deal with.”

Aw said there’s no easy solution to helping stressed children other than by being nurturing and understanding instead of venting your anger when the child displays unusual behaviour.

“Parents sometimes do not believe that children can suffer from stress simply because they are children.

They need to know that children are human beings, too, and any changes in their environment can bring on stress.

When I talk to children, they always say that their parents do not listen.
“They should also never treat all their children the same way.

Each child’s needs is different, needing different approaches.

The way you deal with a child when he is two should be different from the way you approach him at 15.

Explanations and negotiations are key.”

Signs of stress: Six to 11 years old

SCHOOL-GOING children are more vocal about feeling stressed.

However, whether they verbalise it or not, it can also manifest as physical complaints and uncharacteristic behaviours.

School children who are stressed often have stomachaches, headaches, respiratory tract illnesses, sleep problems, no appetite or want to eat all the time, experience slow recovery from illness, stutter, need to go to the bathroom a lot, or grind their teeth, especially in their sleep.

They also can pick their noses, bite their nails, and have nightmares.

They may also revert to infantile behaviour such as bed wetting, throwing tantrums or baby talk.

Stressed children may also lie, bully, defy authority, be angry, aggressive and irritable, engage in disruptive behaviour, hit other children, refuse to go to school and do poorly in school.

They can also have panic attacks, withdraw, whine, be depressed, lose interest in usual activities, be worried, lose concentration, cry, appear to be lazy, be accident prone, and drop friends.

12 to 18 years old

PRE-ADOLESCENTS and adolescents, though the most articulate, are often the least communicative.

They also may deny that anything is troubling them and refuse to talk.
When stressed, teenagers may behave in many of the ways that elementary school children act when they are dealing with stress.

Their regressive behaviours manifest as being unwilling to take on more adult responsibilities and wanting to play more.

They may not want to go to university.
Stressed teenagers may also engage in dangerous behaviour that put their health or lives at risk.

They may also have suicidal tendencies.
Children may not be able to tell us that they are stressed, but their behaviours and physical symptoms can give us clues.

How parents can help

Parents can help children respond to stress in healthy ways.

Following are some tips:
• Provide a safe, secure, familiar, consistent and dependable home environment.
• Be selective in the television programmes that young children watch (including news broadcasts), which can produce fears and anxieties.
• Spend calm, relaxed time with your children.
• Encourage your child to ask questions.

Encourage expression of concerns, worries or fears.
• Listen to your child without being critical.
• Build your child’s feelings of self-worth.

Use encouragement and affection.

Try to involve your child in situations where he or she can succeed.

Try to use positive encouragement and reward, instead of punishment.
• Allow the child opportunities to make choices and have some control in his or her life.

This is particularly important because research shows that the more people feel they have control over a situation, the better their response to stress will be.

• Encourage physical activity.
• Develop awareness of situations and events that are stressful for children.

These include new experiences, fear of unpredictable outcomes, unpleasant sensations, unmet needs or desires, and loss.
• Recognise signs of unresolved stress in your child.
• Keep your child informed of necessary and anticipated changes such as job changes and relocations.
• Seek professional help or advice when signs of stress do not disappear.

What children can do to relieve stress

Open communication helps to reduce anxiety and depression in children.

Encourage your children to discuss their emotions and help them to change the stressful situation and/or their response to it in simple ways.

Below are some tips that children can follow to help them reduce stress:
• Talk about your problems.

If you cannot communicate with your parents, try someone else that you can trust.
• Try to relax.

Listen to calm music.

Take a warm bath.

Close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths.

Take some time for yourself.

If you have a hobby or favourite activity, give yourself time to enjoy it.
• Exercise.

Physical activity reduces stress.
• Set realistic expectations.

Do your best, and remember that nobody is perfect.
• Learn to love and respect yourself.

Respect others.

Be with people who accept and respect you.
• Remember that drugs and alcohol never solve problems.
• Ask for help if you are having problems managing your stress.

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