The stress that children feel when beginning school can be more serious than adults may think. Many adults may think that children do not feel stressed, but their stress levels can be high.
If you notice that your child is more irritable, cannot sleep well, has more dreams than before, has a smaller appetite, and fights often with siblings, these indicate that your child is under a significant amount of stress. When children are stressed, they may develop anxiety symptoms, tic disorders or refuse to go to school. At such times, the role of the parent is very important. Most symptoms are temporary and will be improved with time.
|Illustration by Park Gee-young|
The most common mistake that parents make is to scold their children and try to correct their behavior abruptly. They must realize that it takes time.
Parents should also remind their children that the school is a fun and interesting environment where they can make new friends.
On the other hand, some children adjust to the school environment quickly and some parents worry that their children prefer school over their home. However, this is normal, and you can be relieved that your child is adjusting to school very well.
Things that adults do not think much of may contribute to stress in children. Adults have the ability to identify stress and cope with or avoid it, but children do not have such abilities. Children feel stress when they are in a strange situation they’re not used, when they are afraid or in pain, or when they have to do something that they do not want to do.
On the first day of school, various situations can cause stress. The neighbor’s barking dog, talent shows at school, minor exclusion by peers, arguments with parents, or divorce can also cause stress. Others include a busy schedule, massive studying, or the boredom of not having anything interesting to do.
When children are very stressed, they become intimidated, frustrated, and anxious, may experience abdominal pain, and feel as though something bad will happen. They may develop tic behavior, such as blinking their eyes, or habits such as biting their fingernails, as well as having nightmares and wetting the bed at night.
Yet, no one can avoid all stress in life, and there is no need to do so. Not all stress is harmful. Children can feel happier when they learn to cope with stress and become more confident.
Parents should observe their children, and listen with interest to see how serious stress can affect their health, behavior, thoughts and mood. They should praise their children when they have done something good, no matter how trivial, and when they fail, they should encourage them and provide help if needed, rather than criticizing them.
Parents should be satisfied with the results of their children’s efforts, even if they are not perfect, and help them to develop a habit of being satisfied with their own work. They should also practice how to cope with stressful situations.
For example, for children who fear speaking in public, they should practice speaking in front of their parents to overcome their fears. The habit of writing in a diary will also help them cope with stress. Above all, a happy family, a school that builds confidence, sufficient sleep, and appropriate nutrition, as well as exercise, will help children cope with stress.
By Joung Yoo-sook
The author is a doctor at Department of Psychiatry at Samsung Medical Center and a professor of Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine. ― Ed.