The causes of a child’s stress

The causes of a child’s stress
“Studies show that a simple diaper change or even getting out of the bath can be stressful moments for babies. Parents can help turn these into fun moments, but if they aren’t paying attention to their child, researchers have noticed that babies take much longer to return to their normal states afterwards,” says researcher Pierrich Plusquellec.

Here’s an overview of situations that may trigger a stress response in your child:

Any situation that includes one or more of the N.U.T.S. ingredients—novelty, unpredictability, threat to the ego or a poor sense of control—are likely to elicit a stress response in your child. This applies to a move, a new or disturbing experience, a change in the attitude of a loved one (e.g.: daddy’s booming voice that suddenly turns angry or mom’s impatience at the end of the day), etc.

“Studies show that a simple diaper change or even getting out of the bath can be stressful moments for babies. Parents can help turn these into fun moments, but if they aren’t paying attention to their child, researchers have noticed that babies take much longer to return to their normal states afterwards,” says researcher Pierrich Plusquellec.

Today, stress is mostly psychological, and not a response to a real physical danger, such as a mammoth. The causes of stress can vary and may appear harmless—an offensive comment from our boss, an argument with our partner, or running late after work to go pick up the children at daycare—but they can all trigger stress. The brain then reacts as though presented with a real threat and produces a stress response of the same intensity.

The excessive stress of parents also acts as a stressor for the child. In 2000, Sonia Lupien, director of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress, published a study that found that the more a mother is stressed and shows signs of depression, the more her child will produce stress hormones. “A parent who is depressed is often an unpredictable parent: the child never knows what mood to expect, which is very stressful. And a child with a stressed or depressed parent may have a threatened ego. The parent may scream, because he or she has too much excess energy to release, without thinking about the child’s immediate needs,” offers Plusquellec as an example.

Just as in adults, traumatic experiences also act as stressors for children. According to a number of studies, this can be explained by the link between stress and memory. “Cortisol, the stress hormone, is released in the brain for between eight to ten minutes after a traumatic experience. The stress then engraves the context surrounding the event into a person’s memory—the situation they were in, where it took place, how they were dressed and so on. This is why we all remember what we were doing when we learned about the 9/11 attacks in 2001, but can’t remember Christmas 2010, for example,” explains the researcher. To release the stress, you must therefore work on these mental associations.