Children, Stress and War: Signs to Watch for in Your Child
- Sunday, March 30, 2003
What is happening to our children? Joshua used to be such a happy child with a quick laugh and an infectious smile. Recently his parents have noticed a change in him. He seems withdrawn and moody, and he fights more often with his sister. He just doesn't seem like himself anymore.
Ming is afraid to fall asleep at night. She always has a reason to get out of bed. She needs another drink of water or another story, another light in the room or another blanket. Each night, after the third or fourth request, her exhausted mom lets Ming get in bed with her. It has gotten so that Ming can't fall asleep at night unless she is right next to her mother. Besides these evening disruptions are making both of them exhausted, and Ming's mother is concerned about her daughter.
Amanda used to be an excellent student. Now she seems flighty and unconcerned with her schoolwork. She often comes to class unprepared and she constantly daydreams when she is asked to answer a question. Her teacher is worried. At a recent conference she talked to Amanda's parents and there is nothing unusual going on at home. Both her parents and her teacher are puzzled.
A Simple Answer to a Seemingly Complicated Problem
Joshua and Ming and Amanda are children who are suffering from apprehension. It's common for children to shows symptoms of anxiety in various ways, which vary from child to child. Joshua is depressed, Ming is anxious, and Amanda is unable to concentrate and acting irresponsibly-all classic signs of stress in children. Since all of these children have concerned parents and seemingly normal amounts of stress in their lives, what could be causing them so much turmoil? One doesn't have to look far to see the cause-the constant overwhelming information overload about war and potential terrorism is affecting their lives.
War Is Not Healthy for Children
While this expression might be considered by some to be a relic from the Vietnam War era, most people agree with its heartfelt sentiment. It has been proven the fear of war and constant exposure to heightened concerns about terrorism increase anxiety and stress. In a recent article in Newsweek Magazine entitled, "Our Bodies, Our Fear," Los Angeles-based psychiatrist, Carole Lieberman, says, "Children are especially vulnerable to fear and anxiety. I'm seeing a lot of regressive behavior...kids who are afraid to go to sleep, to go to school, and these emotional experiences have deeper effects on their still developing brains."
What to Watch For
How can you help your child cope? First, watch for these classic signs of stress in your child.
* Depression and/or apathy
* Aggression and/or an increase in argumentative behavior
* Fear of going to sleep, going to school, or being separated from you
* Stomachaches, headaches, dramatic changes in eating habits, and increased illness
What to Do
To calm your child's apprehension about impending war and the threat of terrorism there are several easy remedies that have almost immediate results. Consider these:
- Limit young children's exposure to the media. Turn off the television and don't let young children have access to the front pages of the paper. Insist that children view Internet news with your approval and participation. Make sure the commercial breaks that come between appropriate children's programming aren't full of news headlines and violent images.
- Share in discussion about the news with older children and teenagers. Make sure that they don't "go it alone" without your perspective and reassurances about their safety in the threat of potential terrorism and impending war. Answer their concerns honestly and assure them of their immediate safety. And after they are satisfied, move on to another more peaceful and relaxing subject.
- Enjoy life as a family. Now is an excellent time to make a point of having fun together. Decide with your spouse and family how you can make some quality, family time. See a happy movie together, or go as a family to bowl or play miniature golf. Rent videos and have a pizza and movie night. Laugh together. Anything that allows you and your family to have engage in a relaxing time together will greatly lessen stress.
- Relax together. Have a family massage night or rub your child's back before she goes to sleep at night. Let your children listen to peaceful music while they are doing their homework or before bed. Consider meditation or yoga as a family activity. Work out together. Increased physical activity is proven to release stress-reducing hormones in the brain.
- Assess your child's fears. It is natural for children to have a certain amount of fear in this ever-present global situation of threat of terrorism and war. Yet, if your child's reaction is undermining it's worth a trip to your pediatrician or a child psychologist. With a child who is unable to go about his normal routine, a trained therapist can help your child to put what is happening in the world into a more manageable perspective.
With just a few changes it is possible to reduce children's stress about war and terrorism. And with these changes perhaps children's lives can return to what they deserve to be-happy.
Excerpted from In Children, Stress, and War--Real Ideas to Help Children Cope, you will get real information, ideas, and easy-to-do activities to help your children deal positively with their reactions to the current high-stress global situation, enabling them to live happy, productive lives in this, or any other, situation. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caron Goode, Ed.D author of Nurture Your Child's Gift draws her insights from her fifteen years in private psychotherapy practice and thirty years of experience in the fields of education and therapy. She and her husband live in Tucson, Arizona.
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