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“Children are the target of more adult their kids are stressed out, and it can stress level. “Kids take their emotional
anxiety and intervention today than at happen far earlier than many assume. cues from the adults around them,”
any time in history,” says Honore. “It starts to kick in around their advises Fay. “A lot of high-achieving,
Most troubling is the realization first or second birthday,” says psychol- perfectionist kids think mistakes are
that too much childhood stress can ogist Charles Fay, Ph.D., president of the end of the world, because they see
have lifelong health consequences. the Golden, Colorado-based parent- their parents reacting that way.”
According to a 2008 report by the ing organization, the Love and Logic He counsels parents to model
Centers for Disease Control, chronic or Institute. positive reactions to stress. Take a
severe childhood stress can disrupt the Fay says toddlerhood (12 to 30 moment to tell the kids a funny story
development of fragile brain circuitry, months) is particularly stressful, as about how you spilled coffee in your
resulting in a “low threshold for stress,” kids go through potty training and lap and had to run home to change—
throughout life. Excess stress hor- learning to walk. For older preschool- and the lesson learned. Instead of
mones, like cortisol, can also damage ers, changing schools, older siblings freaking out as you rush around the
the brain region responsible for learn- moving away or parents divorcing can house looking for the car keys, say,
ing and memory and impair the im- all be stressful. “Oh well. It’s not the end of the world
mune system, leaving kids vulnerable While some stress can be benefi- if I am a few minutes late.”
to asthma, allergies and other illness. cial, adults need to be vigilant about Experts say overscheduling is
The good news: Parents who looking for signs that a child is expe- another chronic source of stress, with
take care to shield their children from riencing too much stress, particularly many parents shuttling junior from
excess stress and help them deal with if the child is too young to verbalize story time to baby yoga to playdates.
inevitable stressors in a healthy way, his or her feelings. Common signs According to a 2001 study by Univer-
can set them up for better long-term include regression, temper tantrums, sity of Michigan researchers, children
mental and physical health. withdrawal and tummy, head or ages 3 to 5 have eight fewer hours per
“In a very real way, Mother muscle aches. week of free play time than they did in
Nature expects parents to be good 1981. Kids ages 6 to 8 enjoy 13 fewer
parents,” says psychology professor
Hyperactivity can
hours of free time.
Chris Coe, Ph.D., an immunology
signal stress
An easy solution: “Remind your-
researcher at University of Wisconsin- self that it is okay for kids to be bored,”
“We see a lot of kids and families
Madison. “It helps to guide a child’s says Fay, noting that boredom fosters
who are in a perpetual state of fight or
biology in the right direction.” creativity and prepares kids for a “real
flight and sadly, the kids get wrongly
life” that is not always action-packed.
diagnosed with learning and behavior
what parents can do
If you find yourself often eating
disorders, such as ADHD (Attention
The first key step, experts say, is for
in the car en route to endless pursuits,
Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder),” says
parents to learn to recognize when
your child throws a fit or falls asleep
Fay. Another tip: Check your own
on the way to a practice or he or she
Pr i n t e d o n re c y c l e d Pa P e r t o Pr o t e c t t h e en v i r o n m e n t
August 2009 27
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