Does Stress About Your Health Affect Your Children?

Major health issues are never easy to deal with.  Doctor visits, missed time at work, and medical bills all add stress to the sufferer, but how does it impact their children?  A study by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that 90% of children know when their parents are stressed.  Yet, the study also found that nearly 70% of the parents felt that their anxiety barely impacted their children.

What is stress?

Stress is a function of the demands placed on us and our ability to meet them.  There are two types of stress: eustress and distress.  Eustress is the “good” kind of stress that keeps you motivated and working hard.  Distress is the “bad” kind of stress and occurs when eustress becomes too much to bear or cope with.  Distress is what most of us feel when we start getting overwhelmed, irritable, and tired, and it leads to poor decision making.  43% of adults suffer adverse health effects from stress and 75-90% of all doctor’s visits are due to stress related complaints.

How does stress impact kids?

While childhood conjures images of being care and worry free, children are just as capable of feeling distress as adults.  For some children, separation from their parents may cause stress and in others academic and social pressures may contribute to stress.  What is critical is that adults understand that children do in fact feel stress.

Stress in children may also be directly correlated to an increase in stress of their parents.  Approximately 69% of parents of teens and tweens say that their own stress has slight or no impact on their children, yet only 14% of kids report that their parent’s stress does not bother them. In addition, 34% of kids say they know when their parent is worried or stressed.

While you may not always be able to easily identify signs and symptoms of stress in children, there are some key indicators.  Look for short term behavior changes including mood swings, changes in sleeping patterns, an increase in stomachaches and headaches, and atypical bedwetting.

Telling your child about your medical issue

Medical issues are one of the major causes of stress among adults.  It’s often hard to discuss with your loved ones, particularly children.  While it’s difficult to deal with, it is important to tell your child the truth about your diagnosis.  Provide fact-based information, explaining what the health condition is, how it may impact you, and things that your child may see as you cope with your diagnosis and treatment.  Be sure to emphasize that the health condition is not anyone’s fault; that the family will work together through the duration of the treatment; and that even though the parent may not be able to spend as much time with the child as usual, that they are loved very much.

What can you do to alleviate the impact of your stress on your children?

  • Acknowledge stress

Everyone feels stressed at some point in their lives.  There’s no point in denying it.  Be open and candid about feeling stressed and explain your anxiety to your children.  It’s important not to suppress your emotions and impart that value in your kids as well.

  • Know yourself

In order to better understand how your stress impacts your children, it’s important to first understand how your stress impacts you personally.  Anxiety and anger may manifest as part of a medical diagnosis, in turn leading to difficulties in sleeping and irritability.  Recognizing these symptoms of stress will make you cognizant of them and allow you to try and tone them down or point them out while around your children.

  • Teach your kids how to manage stress

By recognizing your stress symptoms, you are able to better learn ways to manage them.  It’s important that you teach your children how to manage stress.  Listen to music together, go for walks together, or practice deep breathing techniques together.  By teaching your children tools to help lessen stress, they will have the opportunity to work through their own stresses.

Northwest Primary Care offers a variety of resources for the management and treatment of stress and stress related symptoms.  Learn more on our website.