Kids are stressed out, and their parents all too often don't know it. That's the word from the American Psychological Association's Stress in America survey, which for the first time asked children about their stress levels. One third of the 1,206 children ages 8 to 17 said they were more stressed now than a year ago. And parents seem to be missing those clues:
- Thirty percent of children said they worried about their family's financial problems, but only 18 percent of the parents thought this was a source of stress for the child.
- Almost half of children worried about doing well in school, while just one third of parents thought that was an issue for their child.
- Twenty-nine percent of teenagers said they worried about getting into a good college or getting a job after high school, while only 5 percent of teenagers' parents thought that was a source of stress.
- Two thirds of parents thought their own stress levels had no impact on their children, but 80 percent of the children said they learn healthy living habits from their parents.
So parents, time to get clued in. Katherine Nordal, a clinical psychologist who is executive director for professional practice at APA, says parents need to come clean with kids about their own worries. "Younger children tend to blame themselves for problems," she says. "If the kid doesn't know what's going on, they're likely to assume a worst-case scenario or make a problem bigger than it is." So parents need to:
- Tell children what the problem is, whether it's unemployment or marital issues. Explain that Mom and/or Dad are working on it and that it's not going to mean a major change in their lives.
- Know that headaches, stomachaches, lack of appetite, trouble sleeping, and lack of interest in activities are common manifestations of stress in children.
- Realize that children who tend to internalize problems rather than act out are more at risk of becoming depressed and anxious because of stress.
- Make spending time with kids a priority, so you have time to figure out if they're having trouble coping.
"When parent or child is plugged into a BlackBerry, cellphone, video game, or television, they're not going to have enough time with their children for issues like that to come up," says Nordal. Indeed, 85 percent of the kids surveyed said they weren't comfortable talking with Mom or Dad, often because the parents were so busy.
"Take some time to tuck your kid into bed at night," Nordal adds. Dinnertime and driving in the car are also good times to bring up something like "We might not be able to do some of the fun stuff we used to do because Dad lost his job."
Are your kids more stressed out? I worry that my daughter hides her worries because she doesn't want to worry me. But they often tumble out when I'm tucking her in at night. What time do you find your children most often talking about the things that scare them?