Stress and your children

Stress. Everyone knows a little something about its effects. Maybe you will want to step back and consider a few things you may not have thought about before, like how is stress affecting our children while you are focused on your stressors. If that is a difficult task to consider, what do you remember about your childhood stressors? Was someone there to recognize what you were going through, to help you through it and feel better about what you were trying to cope with?

Children do have stress issues, too. George L. Askew, M.D., is chief medical officer at the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families. He addresses the issue of “Stress and the Mental Health of Children” at He notes that Harvard researchers have studied stress responses people have when they are children:

Positive responses. These are considered normal and important to development and include dealing with failures, fear of getting a shot, going to school the first day. These are short-lived events that teach them how to manage life.

Tolerable responses. These are things that are difficult but also are short-lived while they are guided by caring adults who understand what they are struggling with, such as the death or serious illness of someone in the family, divorcing parents, experiencing an accident or disaster. These stressors are more intense, but they will get through them.

Toxic responses. These are from facing serious problems that do not go away, such as being hit or treated badly, having to take care of themselves because there is no one else to do it, or parents/caregivers with substance abuse problems or mental illness who aren’t able to teach children acceptable, proper behaviors.

“When children have safe homes and loving adults around them,” writes Dr. Askew, “they can learn to handle positive and tolerable stress and they can grow from it. Also, children can watch, learn and practice healthy responses to difficult events and experiences.”

Children live what they learn. Everyone is a product of the environment in which they grew up.

How do you recognize a child who suffers toxic stress? Their behaviors are troublesome and they may with draw socially and/or emotionally.,

Toxic stress on a child affects the person for the rest of their life, affecting brain development in the child.

“Where children live, work, play and pray can affect how physically, mentally and emotionally healthy they are growing up and how healthy they will be as adults,” Dr. Askew says. “Children born into troubled homes or who live in poverty have a higher chance of mental health problems than children who do not have toxic stress in their lives.”

Stress helps children learn life skills tools to cope with potentially threatening situations. Children learn these skills from the grown-ups in their lives.

“Childhood stress can lead to health problems later in life including alcoholism, depression, eating disorders, heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases,” advises the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

How are your children handling stress?

For help or more information about stress management in children, contact Family Recovery Center at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468 or e-mail, FRC promotes the well being of individuals, families and communities with education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related mental health issues. FRC is funded, in part, by United Way of Northern Columbiana County.