There are different levels of stress and it is widely agreed that positive stress has the potential to help children learn, grow, build resilience and adapt if it is successfully managed and supported.
“Stress is a phenomenon that is caused by a mismatch between demands and resources, rather than the demands of the environment itself (Cox, 1978)”
Children are still developing the key skills and resources in order to cope with the demands placed on them. They are regularly in situations where the environment demands more than they are developmentally able to, thus causing stress.
There are three types of stress that children can experience.
1. Positive Stress
2. Tolerable Stress
3. Toxic Stress
The difference between these types of stress is determined by the severity of the adversity, the length of the adversity and the support the child receives.
“The support of caring parents (and other adults) helps children to learn through positive stress and is also a critical factor in determining whether a child who experiences tolerable stress (e.g., death of a loved one) moves into toxic stress and psychological ill health or moves towards adversarial growth and psychological health following the stress (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008.)”
10 Ways to build your child’s well-being
1. Accept them for who they are
2. Make time for them
3. Connect them to strengths/positive processes such as problem solving and organisation skills together with character strengths such as persistence, respect, honesty, fairness and caring.
4. Be attentive and responsive in your interactions
5. Support emotional regulation (try to remain calm and reassuring when they are feeling overwhelmed.)
6. Verbalise your own feelings and how you try to cope with stress and difficult situations
7. Provide ordered and predictable environments as much as possible (routines, people, rules and consequences)
8. Be a safe and protective caregiver (developmentally appropriate limits and consequences. No overly harsh discipline or reactions.)
9. Apologise when you have made a mistake (either when you have made a mistake with them or with someone else)
10. Role model asking for help when you are stressed or overwhelmed (this shows children that it’s ok to seek help from others and they don’t have to work through stress or difficult times on their own.)
Studies are showing that not all stress is damaging but toxic stress has debilitating effects on children’s well-being. It has been shown that children are more likely to effectively cope with minor stress if their parents used a strength-based approach to parenting, which many of the strategies listed above are used in this parenting approach.
Waters, L. (2015). The Relationship between Strength-Based Parenting with Children’s Stress Levels and Strength-Based Coping Approaches. Psychology, 6, 689-699. http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/psych.2015.66067
Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. (n.d.) Module 7: Childhood Interventions- Addressing Maltreatment & Neglect. In Video 2- Case Study Continued: Dyad-Focused Interventions for Traumatised Children. Retrieved from https://training.albertafamilywellness.org
Way Ahead. (May 2, 2016.) Stress and Australians. Retrieved from: https://wayahead.org.au/stress-and-australians/