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I am tired...I feel stressed... I feel like running away!!
Being stressed has become a part of our life these days. It's not uncommon to hear this word from people around us and sometimes we ourselves feel stressed. I really don't come across many people who lead a stress free life these days. A nagging boss, performance pressure, managing finances, a troubled relationship, balancing work, home and kids etc are a few things which keep us stressed .
But have you ever come across something like stress in kids?...yes you read it right!!...when we parents as givers and caretakers feel that the world of kids is relatively a happy and carefree one and all they need to worry about is their education, these days even kids as young as 6 or 8 years old feel stressed!! and the reason for this is not just their education.
I recently got a chance to have a conversation with a small group of kids who are my daughter's friend's and are aged between 6 to 9 years and I was both surprised and overwhelmed by the amount of pressure, some of them were living in. It was like an Eye-opener for me.
Besides aching shoulders from carrying a heavy bag and a lot of homework given by the school, the problems were many. In a nutshell I could divide them into the following:
- performance related stress in academics.
- stress due to over scheduled extra curricular activities. They had a lot more to do than they wanted or could manage and there was little time left for free play.
- stress originating from lot of expectations parents and teachers have from them.
- stress that came from friendship related issues, peer pressure, trying to fit in a group and even bullying in some cases. Even favouritism by teachers in a class was a reason why many kids felt demotivated.
- It was surprising but some kids resonated the stress their parents felt. Financial issues, job related issues, relationship problems discussed at home in front of them worried them too. Even fights or arguments at home, misbehavior and how a parent's stress was affecting the kid could be sensed easily.
- Though most of the kids were happy about how their parents supported them, a few felt alone and unheard. In some cases they were even scared of rebuke from one of the parents or both of them.
Listening to them it seemed as if my childhood times were much better. I was raised in a joint family and we didn't have many gadgets or fancy games to play with and even television watching at that time was really restricted but there was enough time to rest and relax and play on our own. There was a bit of academic pressure but not like what kids feel these days and I clearly remember that there were many kids of my age who were not pursuing even one activity. whenever I remember those days they give me happiness.
When I researched this topic a bit more I found that though many kids feel stressed, it is not easy to always recognize it. A pre -schoolers stress may be coming from just separation anxiety from parents while for the older ones the reasons can be many. They may or may not be vocal about it every time and may even hide it from their parents and friends. It is not always easy to recognize this stress in kids and the only way to recognize it is to observe a change in their behavior. It can be a short term change like frequent mood swings, irritability, acting out, little loss of appetite and sleep and may disappear as soon as the reason for stress is removed but sometimes when the reason for stress is deep rooted and coming from a serious and persistent cause for e.g. getting bullied in schoo, it may develop into anxiety and related disorders. When a child starts showing signs of a sudden change in academic performance, becomes rebellious or becomes clingy all of a sudden, experiences nightmares or starts bullying others or becomes too introvert and silent and withdrawn, there is a good a reason for parents to worry. Sometimes children even hold themselves or others responsible for their plight and even go to the extent of punishing themselves or others for this. They indulge in self harm activities like banging their head or scratching their bodies which is really scary.
So what are the possible solutions to this issue and how can we help our kids cope with stress!!
1. As parents the best we can do is to make ourselves available for them and spend some time with them on a regular basis. We need to know what's going around in their world and devise methods to get them to talk to us. It can be in form of a general talk or we can also infer the reason for their worries from the stories or anaecdotes they share with us. It's kind of trying to read their mind indirectly. Even if they don't open up immediately, our presence can be assuring for them. It can instill in them a feeling that we are there to help and if they open up and discuss their problem with us we can help them.
2. It is important to know a problem well before attempting to solve it and thus, whenever the kid shares it we need to listen and be patient and calm about it. The kid should not fear a harsh reaction from us and even if it is a bit disturbing or infuriating situation for us we need to exercise control. We need to look at it from their perspective. It may be trivial for us but really troubling for them.
3. Sometimes the problems are really simple and can be solved easily but other times they may be complex. We need to encourage our kids to face them and not run away. We can encourage them to devise solutions on their own. We can act as mentors and help them reach a solution. It is important to tell them that it is OK to fail or commit a mistake but those who learn from their failures and try to improve become winners .
4. Most of the problems which kids usually face at this age are attributed to their academics, school and friends. Besides playing an active or passive role in solving them, we can Share our own stories and experiences with them in this regard can tell them that everyone goes through this phase and they can feel relaxed about it. They can even take a cue from how we dealt with them at our time and do the same to solve their problem.
5. Besides ample rest, good nutrition and everything else it is important that kids get time to relax and indulge in some free play. They don't actually need to learn from any and everything and even a little time spent willingly just doing what they want can help them relax.
6. The number of Extra curricular activities they need to do should depend on their interest and overscheduling needs to be avoided.
7. A kid who is continuously hearing his or her parents talk about their problems and stress also starts feeling the same. We can't completely shield them away from problems at home or traumatic events but can reduce their encounter with such issues. Also we should watch out for things like too much scolding or harshness and try to be understanding and loving. Things like sibling rivalry should be handled carefully since beginning and a happy atmosphere at home can be really good for a kids upbringing.
8. In the end all work and no play can make anyone dull and bored so planning fun activities in the weekends, outings and vacations with family and happy moments and experiences can give unforgettable childhood memories to our kids and help them grow into a happy individual.
A tension or stress which is really small in beginning can turn into anxiety or behavioral disorders later. Paying attention to these matters at the earliest can help us avoid a lot of trouble later. If a case is really severe and an expert opinion and help is needed one should never shy away from bringing it in open and discussing it.
There can be many other points which can be added to this list depending on the situation but for sure, every kid deserves a childhood which is free from stress as later it is bound to come. These few years should be those cherished ones for them which whenever remembered should bring a smile on their face.