Kids’ Worries: Feeling Known, Feeling Loved

January 6, 2010

In order to truly feel loved, it is essential that one feels accurately understood.  Therefore, if our kids are worried about something, it’s important that we parents are reasonably aware of it—both for helping kids feel loved and understood; but also so that we can help provide assistance for anxiety and/or depression if this happens to be needed.

Recent data from an American Psychological Association survey on stress in America (Monitor on Psychology, January 2010) suggests that there is a large discrepancy between how worried parent believe that their kids are and how worried those kids actually say that they feel.

For example, three times as many kids say they get headaches (33%) compared with the thirteen percent of parents who realize their kids get them.  Twenty percent of kids said that they worry a lot while only three percent of parents viewed their kids’ stress as highly elevated. 

Down the line parents under-estimated and under-reported stress levels in their kids, including the thirty percent who were worried about their families’ financial situation (compared to about half that level of parent awareness of this concern); meanwhile over forty percent of kids eight through seventeen-years-old were significantly worried about grades, school pressures and homework—the highest self-reported kid stressor (and close to ten percent of parents even missed this one).

Similarly, while nearly thirty percent of thirteen to seventeen-year-olds report serious worry about getting into college, or what the future will bring after high school, only five percent of these kids’ parents realized this was weighing them down. 

Conversely, parents over-estimated stress on three categories:  kids’ relationships with their siblings, getting along with peers and peer-pressure to do drugs or other risky behaviors.  This might suggest that these things stress parents more than they do kids.  Another factor in all of this, however, is that this is reported stress and it seems highly probable that some kids chose to conceal stress when asked, perhaps denying it as inconsistent with the self-concept they wished to cultivate or project to others.  To me it seems unlikely that kids would exaggerate their stress levels, which, all in all suggests that kids are rather stressed these days, particularly about school, money and their futures.

While I sense that readers of this blog are likely to be the parents who do get it, these numbers personally surprised me as a psychologist, leaving me feeling that I better check in again with my kids—who I know get headaches, feel stressed by school, etc… but what might I be missing?

As for things to consider in deepening how we think about anxiety and/or ways to help manage it see previous posts on anxiety.

So, let’s dedicate today to having eyes and hearts open to noticing and empathizing with the worries that burden the kids in our homes, and those of all our collective children. 

Namaste, Bruce

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

April January 6, 2010 at 10:03 am

I think sometimes it’s hard for parents to acknowledge these things for a variety of reasons. If you’re without health insurance, for instance, you might want to dismiss physical ailments as nothing serious that will pass with time. Parents going through a divorce might not want to acknowledge how it’s affecting their kids. Parents may think that stress is not so serious because it’s just a part of life. Kids might not want to admit their concerns about getting into a good school because parents might be quick to put the blame on the kids for not doing well, without acknowledging how hard it is even for the best of students.
Having said that, I do think it’s possible for kids to exaggerate their ailments. My own kids have fessed up to going to the school nurse because they wanted to go home, not because they were really sick. (And school nurses are quick to send children home even without a fever to avoid negligence.)
But I think it all comes down to a parent’s own feeling of vulnerability. Most parents don’t want to see their children suffer, and will sometimes choose denial over dealing with it. So how would you recommend that parents compartmentalize their own feelings/issues in order to create a more nurturing environment?


BigLittleWolf January 6, 2010 at 5:42 pm

I think April makes valid points. I also agree that we sometimes assume certain things cause stress, and by assuming, we miss other things. An open channel of communication helps, but not all kids will communicate. This is where I think teachers (and older siblings) or other adults in their lives can potentially be of help – perhaps less fear in discussing certain things with them. Not to mention, different boundaries.

This is a good reminder to ask our kids – periodically, and in different ways – what’s going on with them. Because the sources of stress will change, of course. And we need to be ready to hear about them. And then help deal with them.


privilegeofparenting January 6, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Good points and questions—I think I’ll take them up in a separate post. Thanks for challenging me to think more expansively about this.


Khim January 6, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Bruce, as always, you hit the nail on the head. The answer, to me, in dealing with kids feeling stress (or not), our neighbors, those we love (and those we many not love so much) is acknowledgment of another’s feelings. I learned the hard way that it really is okay to say “I’m not feeling the best” or to say “I see you’re not feeling the best”. In other words, don’t sweep “junk” under the carpet. Thanks for the daily pearls of wisdom you send forth. I find peace in the inspiration I get from you.


Lindsey January 7, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Wow – the statistics astound. But then I remember how often I feel both baffled and misunderstood by those closest to me – why should I presume it’s any different with my children? A good and timely reminder to listen carefully, watch wisely, ask probingly (but gently). Thank uou.


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