Is Your Child "Catching" Your Stress?
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Is Your Child "Catching" Your Stress?

Stress isn't one of the things you want your kids to inherit.

Looking for another reason to lower your stress level? You could be passing it on to your child.

"Parents who react negatively to stress are going to have kids who, in all probability, will do the same," says David Elkind, PhD, professor of child study at Tufts University, in Medford, Massachusetts. That's because children learn how to cope by watching their parents. So if you handle stress by holding it in, lashing out in anger, or blaming others, chances are your kids will, too.

Not surprisingly, stress has the same detrimental health impact on your child as it does on you. When you pass on stress, you're also passing on increased risks for high blood pressure, heart disease, and a host of other stress-related ailments. In fact, a University of Pittsburgh study found that children who react to life events by getting hostile are at higher risk for heart disease than those with better coping skills. Likewise, researchers at West Virginia University, in Morgantown, West Virginia, found that children whose parents suffer from stress-related hypertension also suffered spikes in blood pressure when faced with a stressful task.

Think your child might be stressed out? Dr. Elkind says the following warning signs may be an indication of stress overload in young children: chronic headaches, stomachache, bed-wetting, or change in appetite. Adolescents may start drinking alcohol or taking drugs, get in fights, become sexually promiscuous, or lose interest in schoolwork. "Look for any radical change in their usual behavior," he says.

To help younger kids unwind, Dr. Elkind recommends the following deep-breathing exercise: Sit with your child in a quiet room, and show her how to breathe in through her nose and out through her mouth. Gently place your hand on her tummy when she inhales so that she will learn to take deep breaths into her stomach rather than shallow breaths into her chest.

For older kids, Dr. Elkind uses a meditation technique. Have your teen sit cross-legged, with hands resting gently on her knees. Tell her to close her eyes, breathe deeply, and envision something pleasant, such as a rose. Ask her to imagine details such as the color, texture, and smell.

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