Youngsters in study tell of confusion and anxiety in dealing with other people
Stressed children wish their parents would think back to when they were young so they could remember what it's like to be ignored.
"Think when you were a child and your parents weren't listening to you and if you are ignoring your child, then that is what it is like," said one of more than 170 children who were interviewed for a study into what causes stress for 8-12-year-olds.
The Auckland University study found 29 main stressors for children, most of which could be broken down into family or school categories - which the Herald featured in yesterday's paper.
A third category - featured on Wednesday - was intrapersonal issues, such as worrying about the world and their future.
The fourth and final category was interpersonal issues - stress arising from relationships with and between other people.
Interpersonal stressors included feelings of not being able to trust friends, being left out, fear of punishment, being confused by what adults do and say and a feeling your opinion isn't important.
PhD researcher Fiona Pienaar found that the first two stress factors were connected in the sense that children who felt they couldn't trust their friends often, at some level, felt left out.
One child said: "When people leave you out of games and stuff, I feel pretty sad. I feel it from my chest up to my head."
The study found trust was central to children's friendship. Children talked about the stress and the confusion resulting from friends "telling" and how, consequently, their sense of trust became compromised.
"It is stressful if you think you could trust your friends and then they go and tell people and you don't know who to trust," said one child.
"I don't talk to my friends otherwise they tell everyone," said another.
Ms Pienaar said fear of punishment was another stressful factor in children's lives but it was usually the anticipation of it, rather than the actual experience, which caused the stress.
Being confused by what adults said and did also emerged as a stress factor.
This confusion ranged from a bewilderment at adults' behaviour through to challenging what they believed was right and wrong and "how we should treat each other".
There was also confusion about what was expected of them by adults compared with what they saw happening in the world.
"Instead of sorting it out with violence, why can't they sort it out with just talking and sitting down and discussing it?" asked one child.
"If they fight, how come I'm not allowed to fight?" asked another.
The study found children with a jailed parent found it "both bewildering and frightening" trying to understand why the parent chose to behave anti-socially.
"Well it's kind of hard because he's got out now but he gets out and then he goes back in," said a child.
"I don't really know why he keeps going in."
BEDROOM CUPBOARD A FAVOURITE PLACE TO HIDE
Children are stressed by many things, but most of them know how to cope with their problems - whether it be by talking to their parents and pets or taking time out in their bedroom cupboard.
When researching what factors caused stress for 8 to 12-year-olds, Auckland University PhD student Fiona Pienaar also looked at how children coped with their problems.
She found talking was a widespread coping strategy, whether to themselves or out loud to someone the child felt comfortable with.
Ms Pienaar said the benefits of talking were connected to "getting it off your chest" or "getting it out".
"This could be described in terms of the idiom 'a problem shared is a problem halved' with children feeling a sense of relief after finding someone to talk to about their stress."
The qualities that attract children to talk to someone - the study found 87 per cent preferred their mothers - appeared to be based on trust and the length of the relationship with that person.
While family members were a popular choice, a third of children said they coped with stressed by talking to dead relatives. Twenty-four per cent chose dead pets.
The children said they talked to the dead because they'd had a relationship with them so they continued to feel connected in times of need.
"Similarly, talking to themselves seems to give children the opportunity to give vent to their stress," said Ms Pienaar.
Only 25 of 92 children spoke to their teachers when stressed.
Children also had other coping mechanisms such as watching television, listening to music or playing with friends.
Ms Pienaar found most children were able to think about what they could do in times of stress.
The most important place for children in dealing with their stresses was the bedroom.
Sixty-one per cent dealt with stress by finding a private place to spend time on their own. More than one child spoke of going to their bedroom cupboard.
"If I'm really stressed I go into my room and sit in my cupboard and I normally wait until someone comes to me and asks what is wrong," said one child.
HOW KIDS COPE WITH STRESS
* Talk to mum...87%
* Find something to do...74%
* Talk to themselves about it...71%
* Talk to friends...68%
* Spend time alone in a private place...66%
* Talk to dad...62%
* Talk to pets...61%
* Spend time on computer or watching TV...59%