Stress and Health in Children

It is hard to deny that in this competitive world our children are asked to do more, give more and be more. The quest for perfectionism (especially in girls) may be doing more harm to our children’s health than we care to notice.

Children’s stress can come in the form of too much to do, events happening in their lives with family or peers, or current media events they may hear about on the nightly news. We also have to be cognizant that some things adults view as not a big deal can make a large impact in the life of a child (for example, what a friend thinks of him or her on social media.)

The physical side of childhood stressors is becoming more known. The Scientist reports that childhood stress can affect the size of telomeres later in life, which could cause premature cellular aging. The Washington Post reports on a doctor who is taking a social emotional approach in her medical practice.

It is more important than ever to open dialogue with our children and determine what stressors are causing them harm before they become physical ailments. We need to connect with young people and teach wellness techniques that fit into their fast-paced world. We have to communicate that relaxation is necessary and not something to be viewed as slacking. We have to model wellness and stop wearing business as a badge of honor so our children can see that self-care is important.

Parents, educators and pediatricians need to recognize and share symptoms that may indicate more than what they seem at face value. We must notice changes in behavior or peer groups, frequent sickness without symptoms or changes in interactions with others. More importantly, we must act as a team to raise a happy, well adjusted child.

The right amount of stress is crucial to our children’s well being and ultimately, their health. Mild stress is normal and often helpful (being nervous before a big test) but real or perceived expectations that lead to an unrealistic quest for perfection can potentially become health problems later in life.