Stress and Kids' Health
And that lack of security can have a real effect on their health. "Children who have higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, early in life are more anxious and easily stressed as older kids," says Marilyn Essex, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who has tracked stress and cortisol levels in one group of kids from birth through ninth grade. Researchers surmise that stress hormones in the brain may actually affect the development of brain regions that regulate the way we respond to tense situations. In essence, the more you stress, the less equipped you'll be to deal with it.
Fortunately, there's plenty that parents can do to shield kids from the daily strains of life. In her research, for example, Dr. Essex found that caring fathers keep children with high cortisol levels from being overwhelmed even if their moms are stressed. At the very least, you and your spouse should learn how to manage your own reactions to anxiety so that it doesn't affect your kids.
It's also important to tune in to your child's stress signals. It can be difficult to tell when kids are anxious -- they often can't tell you that they're upset or why. Here's an age-by-age guide to what you should look for -- and what to do about it.