Introduction

Introduction
Children don’t have work obligations or bills to pay, so what do they have to be stressed about? Well, a lot! How can you recognize the signs of stress to help your child feel better?

Children don’t have work obligations or bills to pay, so what do they have to be stressed about? Well, a lot! How can you recognize the signs of stress to help your child feel better?

We associate stress with being rushed, but that’s not really the reason. “When you go to the dentist and have the time you need, are you still stressed? Sure! On the other hand, a day full of appointments will not necessarily be stressful if you planned for it and started it calmly,” explains Pierrich Plusquellec, researcher and co-director of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress. It’s mostly the situations that accompany being rushed—anxious parents, blame laying or a ticking clock—that act as stressors for children.

We secrete stress hormones when a situation includes one or several of these ingredients:

  • Novelty (something new you have not experienced before)
  • Unpredictability (something you had no way of knowing would occur)
  • Threat to the ego (your competence as a person is called into question)
  • Sense of control (you feel you have little or no control over the situation)

An easy way to remember these is the acronym N.U.T.S. Once the brain detects any one of these ingredients, it produces a stress response (made up of adrenaline and cortisol) to help engage the required energy. The intensity of the stress depends on the number of N.U.T.S. ingredients detected. Even though stressors vary from one person to the next, the biological response to stress is universal.

Way back, we used this energy to fight for our survival, in a fight or flight response to a threatening mammoth, for example. Even though mammoths no longer exist, our systems are programmed to respond to a perceived stress the same way.

Stress, in itself, isn’t bad for you. “It’s even essential to development, for children and adults alike,” says Plusquellec. “Our stress system, which has been around since the dawn of mankind, was created to respond to a threat. It has saved our lives on countless occasions and, fortunately, still works well,” he explains. “Even today, it’s what allows us to worry when our child crosses the street,” adds the researcher. The problem arises mostly when stress becomes chronic. Energy is engaged without being used, which can result in an organism burnout.