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3.2 Signs of stress and

Stress and
depression in children are caused by a combination of external and internal
factors. Outside the child, there is perceived turmoil and tension either at
home, at school, or with peers. Inside the child, there is intensely felt
frustration, fear, and uncertainty. For maltreated children, there are the
added elements of horrible past experiences and possibly the lack of permanence
in their lives today.

As the child’s fear and frustration
increase, the perceived turmoil and tension increase. This in turn increases
the child’s fear and frustration. The vicious circle builds and the child
becomes less able to cope. The result is mounting stress and deepening
depression. To help, you need to first slow and then stop the vicious circle.

To help a child, the first order of business is to never add fear or
frustration to the equation. To some extent, the child feels out of control.
You must provide the personal and emotional control the child is seeking,
keeping in mind it will take time and patience. You certainly can’t do that in
an hour or a day and it may take weeks and months.

For a specific child in care, you may need to work with the available
professionals to develop an intervention and support plan. For all children,
though, the plan will include the following techniques. After each technique,
write a sentence or two about why it is appropriate for children.

•           Patience,
patience, patience.

•           Staying
calm and open to the child.

•           Being
available to sit with and listen to the child. (Note this doesn’t call for your
talking much or offering advice and suggestions.)

•           Being
gentle but firm with the child in terms of your rules and expectations.
(“I know you are having a rough time of it; but you still need to. . .

•           Trying
to understand the external problems and issues from the child’s point of view.
(When you can quietly explain things in a way that fits how the child perceives
them and see why the child is so upset, you have reached empathy: you and the
child are on the same page.)

•           Offering
other ways of thinking about or looking at the situation, without judging or
contradicting. (If the child tells you that you don’t understand or your ideas
are stupid, you can say, “I guess I don’t get it yet. Help me understand
why what I said was stupid. It isn’t much fun being stupid. Will you help me
get smart about this?”)

If any of the following signs has been noticed within the past couple
of weeks, stress and depression are likely a problem. Be sure to talk with the
child about your observations and share your concerns. Listen carefully and
start developing your plan to help. After each of the following signs, write a
sentence or two about what you think may help the child with the problem.


•           Frequent
restlessness and trouble calming down.

•           Frequent
sleeping problems or bad dreams. (Also might have nightmares.)

•           Frequent
crying or getting upset very easily. (Also might have crying spells.)

•           Frequently
losing his temper very easily and quickly, with little to no provocation. (This
can be easily misinterpreted as a behavior problem.)

•           Frequently
worrying and fretting about not doing things well enough and about failing.

•           Frequently
not starting things because he assumes they will turn out badly anyway. (Also,
past life experiences may cause the child to be afraid of adult reactions if
the child displeases them.)

•           Frequently
giving up on tasks and activities too quickly.

•           Frequently
not liking himself. (Also might put himself down.)

•           Frequently
not feeling like he fits in or belongs anywhere.

•           Frequently
not feeling loved by anyone.

•           Becoming
extremely embarrassed over something and not being able to deal with it or get
over it.

•           Not
getting over a serious loss or disappointment.

•           Feeling
unable to do anything about what happens to him.

•           Talking
about or threatening suicide. (This isn’t normal behavior and must never be
disregarded as something the child is just doing for attention.)


•           How
might differences such as racial, economic, religious, language, developmental,
or disabilities contribute to stress and depression for children in care?

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