The objective of this article is to help family and friends be aware of the stresses that children experience so that they can help to mitigate them where possible.
By: Susan Adams, M. Ed.
Summary: Children are affected by their society and by the smaller world of their family and school groups. All of these experiences lead children to decide what to expect of themselves. There are many hardships that affect our children. This article identifies many of these and makes some suggestions to alleviate stress where possible.
Children learn and grow not only through educational activities but also by taking in the feelings and the values of adults who matter in their lives. Therefore, when the surrounding adults feel stress, the stress is reflected in their children.
Examples of such stresses include hardship caused by poverty. These stresses also include unsafe, unhealthy, or hazardous situations. Racial and ethnic discrimination continues to plague children of minority groups. Crowding, fear of street crime, and gangs, insufficient police protection, poor housing conditions, and inadequate transportation create external pressures in varying degrees. Changing employment patterns and no employment affect children who live with the over-stressed adults.Regardless of age or social position, children el great pressure when the family is short of money. This calls for conversations in the family about how the adults will take care of the children both emotionally and economically as the family works through the hardships. The conversation in families is critical to sharing information and absorbing children’s concerns so that they children are not left to worry on their own.
Another major issue in considering stress on today’s children, is the increasing number of marriages that end in separation or divorce and the growing number of single-parent families. Divided custody and visitation rights, remarriage and the need for the child to fit into a new family, adjusting to step-parents and step-siblings, all create heavy pressures.
Children may worry about whether they caused their parents’ divorce. Also, a child may bear the brunt of conflicting pressures from divorced parents, or, there may be pressures in a home made unhappy by parents’ differences in values and methods of child rearing. When parents separate or divorce, a child who lives with a working parent may not get as much attention and guidance from the working parent as before.
There is now a tend toward smaller families. In many only-child families the pressure may be enormous to perform and succeed. There may also be enormous pressure to be successful with friends because there are no peers at home. If there is a secret to share or need someone to be your ally against the grownups, not having a brother or a sister may be a pressure in and of itself. The child could feel overpowered.
Many many women have joined the workforce. Some do it out of necessity and some do it because they wan careers. In many instances the money earned by the woman means a much more comfortable lifestyle.
When women work outside the home, good daycare can be very hard to find and it is very expensive. It is essential. Working mothers can wind up feeling great burdens in an effort to solve these problems. If the working mother is overburdened, this may get communicated to the children and can make children feel that they are obstacles in the lives of their parents. Again, having the explicit conversations with children that explain the stresses and reaffirm the importance of the children is essential.
Besides all the social changes in today’s world, many adults have had little preparation for parenthood. They may have only limited understanding of how children develop and what to expect at different ages. They may not know how to help children become more self-disciplined, how to set limits, and make expectations clear for children. If children don’t know what is expected of them, they may try too hard to be too good. They may devise their own guidance systems too early and these systems may be too strict or rigid which creates hardship for the makers. Still other children who grow up without limits set by parents may become mischievous and demonstrate a need for firmer boundaries. In either case, the lack of parental guidance acts as a pressure.
Children experience inner pressures as well. They must learn as they age to delay the desire for instant gratification. They are pressured for toilet training, eating with good manners, learning to communicate desires, learning to share toys, taking turns, and to appreciate the feelings of others. These pressures are derived from the parents but integrated into each child’s personality. The child learns first to imitate the parents at home and later expands to other adults in his world. Copying the roles and behaviors of those around the child, enhances the child’s own internal pressure to grow up. Adults can help this process by helping children to decide how to make decisions by considering the consequences of all the choices available. The adults can help by easing childhood tensions with praise rather than criticism.
It is also helpful to children to build self-confidence by letting children do the things of which they are capable. Doing everything for children robs them of their sense of independence and accomplishment and creates children who fear trying new things. By the same token, too hurried a trip through early developmental stages is more apt to create disorders than to increase coping skills. Forced development and premature, inappropriate independence are likely to lead to greater dependency later and undercut a child’s sense of security and trust in his or her own abilities.
The expectations of classmates and friends can serve as healthy motivators for the child. If the child either can’t or doesn’t want to live up to these it becomes a burden as well. Different cultures, different families, and different peer groups exert outside pressures on children. One family may push for outstanding academics while another pushes for sports. The child who is “average” may suffer in a family of high achievers.If the parents are worried about the child the child feels it and may decide that something is wrong with him or her. Even if the parents don’t discuss the worries in front of the child, the child can sense it. Then the energy to be motivated and accomplish goals can get used up in the child’s worry about himself.
Outside pressures are not always success-oriented. Sometimes they are related to rigid conformity such as, “no one would marry outside of our religion”. It is important for parents to share their values with their children. It is just as important that they present them as THEIR values, suiting their needs and their times, not as decrees from which there can be no deviation.
Siblings also put pressure on other siblings. This is rather common as siblings struggle in competition with each other. It is well-advised for parents to find a special activity in which each child can excel and that the activity be unique to each child in the family. It serves well to have some private time with each child in the family before bed so that the joys and pressures of the day can be discussed and solutions sought. This is a time when parents can make explicit that the values and beliefs that they share are THEIR values and suit THEIR needs and THEIR times and that they are not decrees from which there is no deviation.