pediatric housecalls Robert R. Jarrett M.D. M.B.A. FAAP

Stress In Children

I have had several requests to discuss stress in children and parenting aspects.

While it may have been true in times past that childhood was carefree and fun… for many, if not most children, these days it may not be.

The high-tech, fast-paced society in which we live, whether naturally or in some cases deliberately, increases stress not only in parents, but children.

Unfortunately many areas of stress are deliberately inflicted upon people for monetary gain–such is the case with most advertising.

Advertisers have found that more products are sold if people are convinced that it’s "not good to have the nubs,"  "zits are the pits," "alcohol is the macho life," "you’re not a successful person if you don’t wear a suit and tie," and many, many others.

Children have to have specific toys, adolescents are worthless unless they wear designer clothes, and parents are inadequate when they don’t buy them for them.

Inadequate closure is another area of stress. Closure is a word meaning "everything is finished; wrapped up; at an end."

A child who’s lifetime of past faults are reminded him every new infraction never has adequate closure.

Perceived lack of closure is frightening to children.  "Will I ever get well?" "Is the hospital forever?" "Will the abuse ever end?" "Will daddy ever come home?"

Attempts to provide closure by planning for positive future events can, in many instances, make dramatic improvement.

Writing to the "lost" big brother on a mission, or father on an extended period of military active duty, and planning something when they return is one example.

Bringing items from home to a hospitalized child is another method of providing closure.

Closure is not easily or always possible.  I remember well, John, a 9 year-old at a boys ranch who had been left there by his mother as incorrigible. For two years he had resisted all attempts at "bonding" relationships by the staff because "someday mom is coming back to get me."

There were even several people willing to foster or adopt John but he never would allow himself to let anyone else into his life despite many attempts.  The permanent scars come when closure is inadequate or not allowed.

It goes without saying, a third major childhood stress is all the increase in expectations. Everything from school, to social, to "little league," marching and theatrical groups.

Advanced placement, career choices, field trips to foreign countries, high tech. learning games, and the intense professionalism of children’s performing groups are all things most of us never even had to think about as children.

It just well may be said, that the most successful children of the future will be those who have had parents who made themselves sensitive to areas of stress, provided closure, limited pressure, countered inordinate and unrealistic expectations and helped the child learn to deal with it.

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