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Is Stress Overwhelming Our Children?

by B. Bryan Post PhD, LCSW


(NC)-It's finally 5:00 pm. You hurry home from work, pull out the chicken you thawed the night before and prep it for the baking dish.

The phone rings. Your husband picks it up; it's the tree service calling to dispute a recent payment. Dogs clamor to be let out. The cat is crying in the laundry room about who-knows-what, and oh yes, you haven't changed out of your work clothes yet. The children barely acknowledged you, and would rather spend time with electronics than do doing anything with the family. The last time you mandated an interaction by arranging a family outing on the weekend, both of them responded with anger at your intrusion.

We live in a world populated by phones, computers, televisions, cell phones, radios, and stereos, all of these things serving the purpose of keeping us busy without face-to-face interaction.

If we are planters and farmers in the garden of our lives, surely our children are our most valuable crop. "Stress," we say. "I'm under so much stress." If we feel that way, how is it with our children?

Coping with stress involves a set of skills that are partly taught and partly discovered through the process of maturing. Adults learn to regulate the stress in their lives through active, self-directed engagement. Children, however, do not know how to regulate stress. They are less able to manage stressful situations and are, therefore, far more susceptible to stressful interactions than are adults. Since children respond to stress primarily by becoming fearful, they may avoid the possibility of stress through withdrawing. Parents who do not actively regulate the stress in their households and in their family interactions are actually encouraging their children to withdraw, however unintentionally.

Children typically respond to stress and fear by becoming angry, defiant, or by "acting out." Seen from the perspective of the stress model, poor behavior may be understood as emerging because alternative methods of expressing fear and coping with stress do not exist for the child. Through understanding, empathy, and love, parents can help reduce their child's fear which will ultimately make a difference in their behavior. For the next week, try to see stress and fear driving your child's negative behavior rather than willful disobedience and control.

B. Bryan Post PhD, LCSW, author, speaker, and attachment and trauma expert is the founder of the Post Institute for Family-Centered Therapy. To download a FREE copy of Dr. Post's parenting book visit:



Thu, Jun 22, 2006 10:40am

I do know that stress affects our children very much so..I had gotten in a pretty big argument with my s/o so i went to stay at my mothers..brianna who is a very good sleeper..was just crying..and fussy and she didnt sleep well at all.I see sometimes when im overwhelmed so is im really going to try to reduce the amount of stress in our home for my babys sake.

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