Stress is a response to a factor or situation that negatively affects the physical, emotional, or psychological existence of a person. Stress is good in small quantities as it motivates a person making him/her more productive. However, too much stress is detrimental to a person. Stress can interfere with the general life of a person. Most people assume that stress only affects adults. However, statistics indicate that stress also affects children.
Children face intense pressure from their environment. Continuous stress in children is harmful to their activities, health, and development. There are a number of causes and effects of toxic stress in children. Stress can be caused by both negative and positive situations. Children living in abusive environments, both physical and emotional, experience stress. Arnold wrote that children who are bullied are in continuous state of depression. They, therefore, alienate themselves from their colleagues. Parents who constantly beat their children are also causes of stress. The fear that is manifested in children disorients them. They will not be able to talk about what they feel to anybody but rather keep to themselves. Events such as accidents, loss of loved ones, and rejection are also causes of stress in children.
Social change patterns in children cause many stressful situations. Children at puberty yearn for freedom. This creates tension between them and the parents, who are constantly monitoring and regulating their activities. In the same stage, children will constantly be in need of money. Lack of money causes stress in children as they are not always able to buy whatever they may need. They will compare themselves with other children who are in comfortable financial positions. Such children are always anxious and worried of where and how they will get money. Stress in children is not only caused by what happens in their own lives but also by what happens in their parents’ lives.
The greatest effects of stress are experienced by the brain. The brain controls all the stress mechanism in the body making it the primary stress organ. Johnson stated that the vulnerability of children’s brain is caused by the fact that they are constantly growing and developing. Constant stress in children disrupts brain development and compromises its normal function. Research has indicated that children experiencing stress have smaller brains. Toxic stress impairs the connection of brain circuits resulting in development of a smaller brain. Prolonged period of stress in children affects their nervous and immune system. Stress hormones are released when a child is exposed to stress. Cortisol hormones, which are released as a result of stress, suppress the body immune system. This leaves a person vulnerable to diseases and infections.
Depression, alcoholism, eating disorders, and chronic diseases are also linked to childhood stress. Psychological effects of stress include changes in personality, aggressiveness, and irritability. Children under stress are likely to experience frustrations and isolation from friends and family. They spend more time on their own and lack motivation. Children may also have difficulty in concentration thereby affecting their academic performance.
Children under extreme stress exhibit change in behavior. They may be more disobedient, fight often, stutter, and cry often.
In conclusion, stress in children has many causes and effects. The notion that stress only affects adults is wrong. Too much stress, often referred to as toxic stress, is detrimental to the life of a child. Toxic stress affects the physical, emotional, psychological, and social aspects of a child. Even though every child reacts differently under stress, it is clear that stress affects the neural system and the health of a child. Children under stress tend to develop negative characteristics like irritability and disobedience. Research has indicated that there are number of causes of childhood stress which are interrelated. Social change patterns, abusive environment, and stress in parents are just some of the cause of childhood stress.