Remember those fears that you used to have back in your early days? Fearing an ant would crawl into your ear, and build a colony in your brain? Or being hysterically afraid of clowns even at the thought of them? We all have our inner monsters to fight. We went from fearing those monsters under our bed, to realizing that these monsters were actually living inside our head. Let’s face it, we’ve all had our fair share of fears when we were young, and they are natural.
Children are being taught by their parents to be cautious and fearful of specific dangers, such as crossing the road or fire. In these circumstances, fear can be useful because it helps to protect the child against harm. However, children can develop fear in objects or situations that are not threatening at all.
Major worries of today’s world
The world is burdened by a weighing amount of fears today. Those voices of fear and worry will always be present, adding up to the pile of stress that we shoulder up daily. One of these would be the global pandemic, coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Since the start of the threatening coronavirus disease in late December, a lot of schools, universities, and educational institutions have closed its doors in order to prevent global pandemic from spreading.
If you’ll open the TV to watch some news, most often than not, you’ll be presented with endless of news regarding the current status of the coronavirus disease, its number of confirmed cases, as well as the number of death tolls. Although it may not appear that children are affected by all the adult stress and commotion, they can perceive it from their parents. A child witnessing his/her parent in a state of stress or fear over the coronavirus disease can be more than just temporarily unsettling for children. Kids look up to their parents for information on how to interpret certain situations that are ambiguous to them. So if a child sees his/her parents being constantly anxious and fearful of the things happening in the world, the child will perceive the world as an unsafe and scary place.
As a matter of fact, there is plenty of evidence proving how children of anxious parents are more likely to have anxiety themselves. This may be a combination of their acquired behaviors with a combination of genetic risk factors. Indeed, it is painful to realize that, despite your best hopes and intentions for your child, you may find yourself transmitting your anxiety and stress to your child.
The physiological effect of fear on a child’s mental health
It is a parent or guardian’s responsibility to provide a safe and secure space for a child to learn, grow, and develop a healthy brain and body. It is important to know that a child’s early exposure to fear and anxiety can bring some lifelong harmful effects on the child’s brain architecture.
The “fear center” part of the brain or also known as the amygdala may be altered during childhood. These alterations during the development of a child may have an important influence on the child’s development of anxiety problems and other mental health issues.
According to the study conducted by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, childhood traumatic experiences may affect how they acquire knowledge, solve real to life problems, and relate to others.
The physiological effect of fear on a child’s health
Stress and anxiety is our body’s natural response to demanding or certain adverse situations. In other words, it is meant to help us deal with our day-to-day situations. This fight-or-flight response to circumstances cases a shift in our hormones–including the release of adrenaline and cortisol–which heart rate and blood pressure.
Stress can be beneficial in short-term situations, but when that stress response remains for a long period, it can lead to major life-threatening problems. Your child can suffer from heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and mental issues like depression, neediness, and the inability to learn new knowledge and skills. This prolonged activation of the natural stress response is called “toxic stress.”
The physiological effect of fear on a child’s physical behavior
Children with anxiety may come up with their own methods to try and manage situations that they find threatening. This often involves attempting to avoid facing the situation of having a parent or other people to deal with it instead of them.
While this may work for the short term, avoiding the fearful situation just increases the probability of them feeling more anxious and be unable to face it next time. As a result of this, they may find it harder to cope with the day-to-day stresses at school, home, and in other social settings.
You may notice your child…
- clings to you more often
- asks for help on things they can do for themselves
- doesn’t want to go to school
- having a hard time to sleep without a parent or other adult
- asks “will you tell them for me?” or “will you do it for me?” a lot
- often experiences headaches or stomach pains
- worries about doing things right a lot
- prefers to watch others rather than doing it by themselves
- is afraid of the dark, injections, dogs, being alone, tests, germs, etc.
- tends to cry over small things
- may complain about being picked on a lot of times
- always sees the negative or dangerous side of things
How to counter these effects?
While we adults may have our own methods and ways for managing stress and fears, children have not yet developed their own habits and are yet to discover the things that can help them cope up with their worries. We should put their development and health on the right track by reassuring that we are with them in each and every step of the way. These following tips may guide you:
#1 Talk with your kids
Understanding what’s bothering your child is the first step in your mission to help them. Through this, you can address the stress at the source, and combat it before it gets bigger and bring more harm to your child. For example, it is found that 30% of the children today worry about the financial status and well being of their family, and only 18% of parents knew that it is a prevalent source of their child’s stress.
If you have found out that your child is worried about your family’s financial difficulties, you can talk through your finances with them. You can even help them start-up their own bank account, and budget so that they feel more in control of the things they worry about.
#2 Play with your kids
With the rise of technologies and gadgets, children are spending less and less time playing actual toys. According to Forbes magazine, more and more schools are reducing their recess time in order to increase the time they have for classroom technological activities. this leaves many children with no physical play for their day. This is where the problem arises, because playtime, especially physical play is essential in a child’s development. Not only does this lead to a higher risk of obesity, but it can also affect the child’s cognitive development and problem-solving skills.
So it is greatly advisable to get outside and play with your kids. Bring your bike and go to the park, or maybe you can play tag football in the backyard, or you can go on a hike. The bonus is, you’ll strengthen your bond with them as you further reduce their stress.
#3 Enroll your kids in music lessons
Having your child enrolled in a music lesson is another stress-busting activity what will bring tons of benefit to your child as well. Music is known to have a strong connection to human emotion, which means that music can be a great medium to help reduce stress from your child. Playing and listening to music acts as a kind of medicine or sure that can help to reduce your child’s risk of heart diseases, and reduce blood pressure as well.
#4 Encourage sleep
Over the past few decades, children are being more and more exposed to gadgets and technology causing them to get a lesser and lesser amount of sleep. The phrase “enough sleep” varies among your child’s age, babies need about 11 to 14 hours of sleep, preschoolers need 10 to 13, and elementary kids need 9 to 11, your teenagers need at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep each day.
What happens in early childhood can matter for a lifetime–which is why it is very important for parents to know and have a keen eye on the physical as well as the mental well being of their children, especially because there are factors such as stress and fear that are often overlooked by most parents.
In today’s fast-paced and modern society, the day-to-day life demands can be overwhelming and the burden we carry may be unconsciously passed through our family members and children. It is important to be mindful of the impact it can bring to them especially because their brains are still in its development process.