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Daily Mail Article 14/01/14

In our own increasingly stressful lives, it is no surprise to learn that our children are also suffering from rising stress levels.

A key study by the Office of National Statistics found that one in ten children now suffer from mental health problems including stress, anxiety and depression.

And with rising stress levels in adults already leading to problems such as depression and heart disease, what will the impact on our children be in the future?

Read our guide below to the common causes of stress in children, how you can spot it and what you can do to help.

And click on the link in the blue box opposite to talk to others about this story.

How many children are suffering from stress?

YoungMinds, the children's mental health charity, says nearly one million children between the ages of five and 15 now have mental health problems like depression and anxiety and the numbers look set to keep on rising.

Gavin Baylis, a spokesman for YoungMinds, says, 'In the past 20 years, mental health problems have got worse, they are being shown in younger children and they are getting more complex.'

Although stress is not the same as depression, prolonged periods of stress can lead to depression if they are not dealt with effectively. Therefore, stress in children should be tackled early on to avoid problems in later life.

With children as young as two or three showing signs of stress, experts say it is going to become a major health problem in the future unless something is done now to tackle stress in children.

What causes stress in children?

A recent study carried out by the NSPCC found that academic worries were the biggest cause of stress for nearly 50 per cent of children. Further research has confirmed that exam worries cause children more stress than peer pressure to be 'trendy' or find a boyfriend or girlfriend.

With an increase in the number of tests that children have to undertake and the pressure on schools to perform in league tables, is it any surprise that studying comes top of the stress list?

Karen Sullivan, a natural health expert and author of 'Kids Under Pressure', says, 'No child should be pressured to perform for anyone other than himself. In other words, school standings in league tables, and working for parental approval, leave a child not only susceptible to failure, but likely to fail.'

The pressure to succeed at school makes children feel as if they are constantly doomed to failure. This pressure would be hard enough for adults to cope with, let alone children!

But children do not just worry about what happens at school. Family life and their lives outside school can all be sources of stress.

'Children are human beings, so whatever {3}stresses you out is likely to stress them out too,' says Peter Wilson, director of YoungMinds. 'They don't like pressure, losing someone they love or being threatened, just as adults would react badly to these sorts of stresses.'

But unlike adults, children are not emotionally and mentally developed enough to cope with these pressures. Peter Wilson explains that while an adult might be able to escape from a stressful job by going to the pub or staying with some friends if a relationship is going badly, children are prey to what's going on around them.

'Because they are more dependent on their carers, they do not have the freedom to escape from stress,' he says. 'So if parents are arguing or constantly stressed themselves, a child will become stressed at home and because they cannot remove themselves from the source of stress, the problem can get worse.'

There is an also increasing amount of evidence to show that parents may be putting pressure on their children to succeed.

Karen Sullivan, says 'Parents put children under enormous pressure with heavily orchestrated schedules of extra activities, all of which are designed to help them succeed in life. However, this leaves little free time for children to be children and to relax. Children are often left feeling they are not good enough because they are not 'the best'.'

Karen believes that because these activities tend to be achievement-orientated - children are expected to excel at everything including sports, music and their school work - rather than relaxing, they become a drain on a child's free time and on their physical and emotional resources. They have no room left for 'fun' - a lack of which stresses them out even further.

Other common sources of childhood stress are bullying, sibling rivalry, parents getting divorced, moving house, and peer pressure. These are all fairly normal parts of growing up, but because children now have less free time to relax and expectations of them are so high, these ordinary problems can become magnified and less easy for them to deal with.