Less is more: Protecting children from stress

Stress in childhood - it is hard to imagine that this already exists. However, the studies of recent years speak for themselves. For example, the elephant children's health study conducted by the German Child Protection Association (Deutscher Kinderschutzbund) presented by Professor Dr. Dietrich Grönemeyer in 2012: One child in four of the nearly 5,000 second and third grade students surveyed feels often or very often stressed and can even describe the symptoms in their own words.

In other countries things are no different. Finnish scientists have found that an increasing number of children are suffering from migraine and headaches. While in Finland at the beginning of the 1970s, two percent of under-seven-year-olds were still under the age of seven, in 2002 this figure had already risen to twelve percent, with a further upward trend. And in neighbouring Switzerland, the Basel Youth Health Survey 2012 showed that more than half of young people often experience stress. If the childhood is already marked by stress, it can be assumed that this will intensify in the youth.

Especially the school, especially homework, dictations or grades, are perceived by the children as overstraining and are called stress triggers. The second most common cause of stress in Germany is anger and dispute. But also behaviours of family members, many prohibitions, agitation and hurry are perceived as stressful. It is quite irrelevant whether the interviewees are girls or boys, whether they are somewhat younger or older or what school they go to. Obviously it depends on other factors - for example on the expectation pressure of the parents. And this is where parents have a chance to alleviate the stress for their offspring. In general, there is little they can do about the class tests and examinations. However, parents can watch their children closely to detect signs of stress and help them develop countermeasures.

Children often can't articulate when something gets too much for them. They flee into undefined headaches or abdominal pains. Even lack of concentration, insomnia, restlessness or unmotivated anger are signs that something is wrong. Another hint of stress can be present when children want to watch a lot of TV, play on the computer or the game console. At first, these media activities do not cause stress themselves, but rather they are insufficient unconscious methods of the children to deal with the existing stress.

If you, as a parent or parent, notice stress symptoms in your child, then you should get to the bottom of the causes. Are you asking too much of your child? Do you want to continue with music lessons, football or dance training right after school and then have to do homework and learn vocabulary until late in the evening? Of course it is said - early in the morning, whoever wants to become a master - what speaks for an early promotion. But it is just as important that a child can simply laze around and do nothing. This is important for well-being and also creates creative freedom. If the mind can freely unfold during daydreaming, the right hemispheric regions of the brain become active, which are otherwise suppressed by the hectic work and school routine. This also explains why we come up with solutions on the couch or during a walk that we've been looking for all along the way. Also, allow your child to indulge in these creative phases of spiritual inactivity by not cluttering up his afternoon and the weekends.

Another factor to prevent stress from arising in the first place is the emotional support in the family. Children should grow up with the awareness that not only their performance counts, but also that they are loved and accepted even without academic excellence. This fundamental acceptance by parents also lays the foundation for later self-acceptance.

Furthermore, as a parent, you should really listen when your child is talking about a problem, and then do not simply dismiss what is said with the words - that will be done again. Children live in their own world and perceive much that would be unproblematic for adults differently. Try to put yourself in your child's shoes and see the problem from his or her perspective. As the well-known family therapist Jesper Juul writes, children don't even expect a solution from their parents, often it helps them and strengthens them when they feel taken seriously.

And last but not least, stress for the parents themselves can also affect the children. Do you carry unresolved problems and worries around with you? Children are the catalyst for what happens in parents. You notice that something is not right, but you can't always classify it. So if your children are experiencing symptoms of stress, ask yourself how much of it you have and how you can deal with your own problems.

Copyright: Landeszentrale fuer Gesundheitsfoerderung in Rheinland-Pfalz e.V. (LZG) Germany

Text: Dr. Beatrice Wagner

Editorial Office: Marielle Becker