NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Children and Stress

Children and Stress


            A disaster is stressful and frightening to everyone.  For children, that stress will play out differently than it does for adults.

           Several factors have a part in a child's reaction to the event. Children are greatly affected by the amount of direct exposure they have had to the disaster. If a friend or family member has been killed or seriously injured and/or the child's school, home or neighborhood has been destroyed or severely damaged, there is a greater chance that the child will experience difficulties.
           Preschoolers often react to stress by displaying regressive behaviors such as thumb sucking, bedwetting, clinging to parents, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, fear of the dark and withdrawal from friends and routines.  Preschoolers, though, often appear to bounce back from stressful situations very quickly as they do not have the thought processes to be aware of and fear long-range impacts of a disaster.

             Elementary age children often react to disasters by developing physical symptoms—stomachaches, headaches, feeling "sick" or complaining of a lump in the throat. They may become fearful about being left alone – even in their own home.  Stress often reappears at bedtime for elementary age children - they may start having nightmares, not wanting to sleep alone or becoming more afraid of the dark, falling asleep or remaining asleep. Loss of prized possessions, especially pets, has great meaning during middle childhood.

          For preteens and teenagers their response to stress may include an increase of risky behaviors. This could include reckless driving or alcohol or drug use. It is important to be aware that adolescents may turn to illicit substances as a way of coping with their intense emotions. Others may become afraid to leave home. Those emotions may lead to increased friction, arguing and even fighting with siblings, parents/caregivers or other adults. 

          Whatever a child’s reaction, it is best dealt with by kindness and understanding on the part.   Children need to know their feelings are acknowledged and recognized as valid.  Then parents can begin to suggest a better way of handling a concern.  For more info on children and stress, follow the QR code below for comments from Dr. Sean Brotherson with the NDSU Extension Service or view them at: http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/disaster/documents/respond.pdf.



Children and Stress


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