Today we join the American Psychological Association’s Menthal Health Blog Party with a Q&A with Dr. Mary Alvord, a Maryland-based psychologist and member of the APA.
1. Can you give our readers a little background on how constant or frequent stress impacts children’s health?
Data collected from the 2009 and 2010 Stress in America survey indicates that stress takes a physical toll on kids. Tweens and teens report that they have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep all night, experience headaches and stomach aches or upset stomach, either eat too little or too much in response to stress and feel angry a lot of the time.
Specific stats of how stress affects children from the 2010 survey:
33 percent of “normal weight” children and 48 percent of overweight children report that they have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep all night.
28 percent of normal weight children and 43 percent of overweight children report headaches
25 percent normal weight and 42 percent overweight children report stomach ache or upset stomach
Other physical symptoms include:
Eating too much or too little – 16 percent normal weight; 48 percent overweight
Not wanting to do anything – 21 percent normal weight, 34 percent overweight
13 percent of children feeling angry a lot of the time
2. Though the most recent survey didn’t focus on children, previous surveys included a look at children and stress. What were some of the most surprising findings?
Three surprising findings:
I was surprised by the large discrepancy between parents perception of how their stress impacts their child(ren) and children’s reports of how much parents stress impacts them. Two-thirds of parents think their stress level has slight or no impact on their children’s stress level. Only 14% of tweens and teens agree! Many report that they feel sad or worried when their parents are stressed.
The second finding that has implications for clinical practice is that youth who are defined as overweight have more difficulties with physical symptoms of stress , such as falling asleep or staying asleep, headaches stomach ache or upset stomach, and eating too little or too much as a response to stress. Third, is that many tweens and teens turn to sedentary behaviors (listen to music,, play video games, watch TV or screen time) to deal with stress, rather than engage in movement activities.
3. In your own practice, is there any source of stress that children deal with that you come across often?
Because one of my practice specialties is social competence and resilience building, many of the youth report being stressed about lack of – or poor – peer relationships, and being teased. Friendships, when positive, typically provide support and combat against stress. Relationships, when difficult, are a great source of stress. [Other sources of stress also include] parents arguing, separation, divorce, going between homes.
Enjoy this video from Dr. Alvord about resiliency building to manage stress.