EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 23, 2012

Is it possible for children to get stressed?

Family Matters
Dr. Larry Larsen

---- — Is it possible for a child who is 10 years old to have stress? We are having trouble with our youngest, a daughter, who is so concerned about getting As and doing everything right that she has trouble going to sleep at night. She is very smart, a good student and has nothing to worry about. How can we help her?

Of course it is possible for children to be stressed.

Think of stress along the lines of how the body works. There is a system of nerves called the “autonomic nervous system.” It is different from the central nervous system. The autonomic system is divided into two functions. One, called the sympathetic, speeds things up. The other, called the parasympathetic, slows things down. When the sympathetic system acts, your heart beats faster. You are ready for action. This is what stress is all about.

The antidote lies in how to activate or enhance the functioning of the parasympathetic system. This is often achieved by relaxation, inviting a sense of calm, and focusing on more pleasant and tranquil things.

For your daughter there may be at least two things at work. First, she may have some thinking which is disturbing for her. For example, she may think,”I have to be perfect in order to be loved.” Thus she works hard to control anything which could cause her to lose affection.

Yet another cause may be simple span of prehension. That is, she has too much on her plate. Children vary enormously as to how much is too much. For example, children who process slowly and need time are more likely to find there are too many assignments or too little time to get things done.

Then, again, some of us are simply wired for stress. Personally, I would suggest you ask your pediatrician for a referral to a therapist. Think things through and do not be too quick to reach for medication.


Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, or respond to one, you can e-mail Dr. Larsen at lrryllrsn@CS.com.