Stress Awareness for Parents & Adults to Help Children & Teens (Part 1)

 Honestly people, how are you doing, are you getting a handle on your “new normal”? When someone mentions the term, COVID-19, does your heart start beating faster, is there a sense of panic? Are you wondering what’s next? You are certainly not alone! People just like you and I, all around the globe are facing unthinkable circumstances and situations. Can you imagine the impact traumatic stress has upon children and teens? How are they perceiving and adjusting to what is happening in their families, social circles or neighborhoods? How will this prolonged physical and social isolation change our lives, interactions and ability to cope down the road?

   When looking at the impact stress has upon children and teens, we must be aware of their developmental age which influences their understanding and comprehension of events. From a psychological perspective, developmental age is the “age of an individual determined by degree of emotional, mental, anatomical, and physiological maturation”1. Children eight years of age and older are generally able to problem-solve and process information, think of concept appropriate words, use non-verbal skills, write and understand short stories and even hide their true feelings. Adults must also realize young people’s comprehension is also influenced by environmental factors like food insecurity, neighborhood safety, access to quality educational resources, etc.

   Wait, before offering strategies, let’s get on the same page! What exactly is traumatic stress? Experts with the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies believes “traumatic events are shocking and emotionally overwhelming situation that may involve actual or threaten death, serious injury, or threat to physical integrity [like with COVID-19]”2 According to the Centers for Disease Control experts, people may have long term reactions and emotions after a traumatic event like a pandemic or unexpected global weather events in 2020.3

   Common reactions to a stressful event can be physical, behavioral or emotional. Typical responses include denial, disbelief, shock and numbness to having feelings of inadequacy, irritability, helplessness or sadness. Other responses are inability to perform activities of daily living such as personal care, problem-solving or making rational decisions. Some individuals might use gambling, over-or-under eating or engaging in risky behaviors to combat stressful events. Other folks might use or misuse drugs, alcohol, smokeless tobacco products or vaping products.    

     Children and teens may act out or have inappropriate behaviors for their developmental age like temper tantrums, bedwetting, swearing, thumb sucking, etc. Changes in sleep patterns or difficulty getting to sleep might surface. Some young people may show a decline in school performance or not want to go to school at all or might switch to a new peer group or adopt “new” behaviors. Others might have fears and worries about their health which typically presents as musculoskeletal or gastrointestinal problems or unexplained headaches.5  How can parents and adults help children and teens adjust to overwhelming change or build resiliency? Check out next week’s final installment highlighting useful tips and strategies. Believe it or not, as adults we probably have some life experiences that might help children and teens properly handle new routines like social and physical distancing, no contact and displacement of daily routines.

MY PRAYER: Dear God, thank you for providing for our emotional, physical and spiritual needs during these troubling, chaotic times. Although we cannot see you, we know you deeply love us for you sent your son, Jesus Christ as our Holy Savior. We lay our worries and doubts at the foot of the cross where we seek strength and recovery back to wholeness, health and stability. Restore our hope and grant us comfort and peace to love and serve those who might be hurting, lost or have needs greater than our own. Thank you God for not departing from us in the precious name of Christ Jesus. Amen.

-Proverbs 22: 6 – Train up a child in the way he should go;  even when he is old he will not depart from it.
-Proverbs 1: 8-9, Deuteronomy 6: 6-7 and Ephesians 6: 1-4