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Stressed-Out Kids: Learning to Deal with Life's Ups and Downs

Fearfulness
Jacob was eight and suddenly throwing terrible tantrums ten times a day. The last one occurred when he wanted his mother to sit on the landing while he went upstairs. "This was ridiculous," she said. "He's gone upstairs a thousand times without me sitting on the landing, but suddenly he was demanding that I stay there and wait for him. I took a firm stance and held my ground. He ended up screaming for an hour. Is he manipulating me?"

In the end we discovered that Jacob wasn't manipulating his mother at all. He was responding to a news story – the recent murder of a child in her home.

At some point, kids begin to realize that those news stories they hear about are happening right in their own community. Suddenly they're afraid to go upstairs or downstairs or even to the bathroom alone. They have to work through this new awareness and feel safe before they're ready to venture on their own again. Your anxiety rises with your child's. Are you doing something wrong? Why is your normally independent kid suddenly so dependent upon you? Guilt plagues you and the tension rises.

Forgetfulness and Indecisiveness
It was seven forty-five a.m. The school bus had just rambled past m window when the phone rang. It was my "other kid" from down the street. (We're not related but I'm his backup mom.) "I've got a problem," he said.

"You just missed the bus?" I guessed.

"Worse than that," he said. "I can't find my folder, and it's got m report in it. It's due today, and I need it to pass eighth grade. It's hope less. I'm going to flunk. My dad and sister are already gone. Will you please help me?"

I jumped into a pair of jeans and went to help him look. We searched the house but found nothing. He couldn't remember for sure if he'd ha the folder at home or not. He thought he had, but he wasn't quite sun He didn't remember the last time he had it. I knew we were in trouble "Let's go to school and check your locker," I suggested. And there it we right where he'd left it.

An irresponsible kid or a stressed-out one? I knew for a fact that this young man is hardworking, responsible, and bright. So I asked hit about his school, sports, and music schedule, and about what we going on lately. It took only a few minutes for me to realize he wasn't irresponsible but he was stressed.

Two-year-old Ben didn't forget things, he just couldn't make up his mind. He started waking up in the middle of the night, but when his parents went to comfort him, he'd say, "I can't be held." They'd put him down, and then he'd wail, "I need to be held." And so it went. He wanted the light on, then off, then on again.

Stress dumps cortisol into the brain, which disrupts and hinders the thinking process. That's why when a child experiences stress, her school grades often drop. The neural static created by cortisol actually makes it more difficult for her to learn because she can't think, problem solve, or process information as well. It's also this overload of cortisol that can make it difficult for you to think clearly, make a decision, or remember things as well.

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From the book KIDS, PARENTS, AND POWER STRUGGLES: Winning for a Lifetime by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, published by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2000 by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. All rights reserved.

Buy the book at www.harpercollins.com.


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