Competition Mind: Identifying Stress in Children


Several times in this series of articles we have looked at the implications of placing undue stress and pressure on children, and we have also looked at ways of communicating with children. In this month’s article we are going to look at some of the signs that your child may be suffering undue pressure and stress that very often go unnoticed because they tend to appear gradually rather than just happen overnight.

There are a great many signs that signal that a child is suffering, too many to go into all of them but we will look at some of the more common ones that will give you as either a parent or manager the opportunity to do something about it. However, it is also important to be clear that stress shown at the race track might also be coming from other sources and that racing may just be the place where it becomes more apparent. One of the many things to take into account as a possible source of stress is schooling.

Very often the pressure to perform and do homework, get good results and be in a higher grade of class can place huge amounts of pressure on a child so that when it comes to having to perform at the track this can very often be the place where the child feels it the most because their results and performance are on show for all to see. Medical issues are also on occasion to blame; if you have any concerns at all then medical issues are always and should always be the fi rst port of call to get ruled out.

Sibling rivalry is another potential source of stress, having to match up to perceived parental expectations of a more successful brother or sister whether academically, in sport or simply just competing for attention. Sometimes it can even be that the child has a successful parent and this is always being thrown at the child. Other times it can be from a parent who has had a go at sport and been less than successful and they are putting pressure on the child to be a success and live their dreams through their child. Less common but nonetheless to be considered is that a child may be being bullied at school, they sometimes can be derided for being involved in motorsport by children less fortunate and jealous of the child lucky enough to be able to participate. Another common source of stress is the “Do you know how much we spend on you?” This is usually a last ditch threat placed by the parent(s) in a bid to control the child in some way which invariably ends up with the child feeling pressure which in turn will hamper their performance and make them tense.

By now you will understand that stress in a child can come from many different sources and in many different ways and can have a profound impact on their performance on the day. Now we will explore some of the more common signs, again we emphasise that stress and some of the other things we are going to describe to you should always be checked out fi rst by a G.P. simply to rule out anything medical.

More often than not however, stress and the physical signs are brought on by psychological stressors. Over-reacting with tantrums following a poor result is a common one and is very often a way of the child saying with actions “If I am outwardly showing how distraught I am, hopefully you will leave me alone”, or, “I want you to see I am angry, so please keep calm as I want you to avoid being angry and embarrassing me”. The latter though could be modelled from a parent that uses this type of behaviour when they mess up! Nervous tics – these are commonly of physiological origin and are mostly seen by way of involuntary twitches, sometimes with erratic blinking, screwing facial muscles up, erratic sideways twitching of the head. They have even manifested themselves as what appears to be some bizarre pointing of the index fi nger, again involuntarily done and created as a release of stress.

Excessive crying and tears for no apparent reason – usually this is exaggerated by tiredness and very often can be brought on by seemingly minor incidents or minor comments that would otherwise be taken in context and lead to normal dialogue. At its worst these easily released tears and upset can continue and sometimes become uncontrollable during times of the most heightened stress and pressure. It could also, to be fair, be that the child has discovered that this is the best way to manipulate, to get their own way. First though it is important to discover if there is any underlying stress that maybe hasn’t been communicated because the child is in fear. Outbursts of rage – this one can often be seen in the paddock. The child is given some form of criticism, even minor, and they just erupt with rage. Frequently there will be excessive arguments accompanying the anger and rage and it all escalates. This is usually a form of defence and also a modelled behaviour.

Sometimes it can be a cry for help to the parent to actually listen rather than continually attack and criticise. Obviously in some cases hormones can also play a part! Obsessive compulsive behaviours – these can be in various different forms which can be like touching rituals or some other form of seemingly odd behaviour which a child has adopted and for them must be done, this offers the child comfort. Bedwetting – this is more common than you would think, so if you happen to have a child who is bedwetting you are far from alone with this distressing issue. Again it is important to have any medical conditions ruled out before you look at the psychological aspect, in any event it is usually caused by underlying stress. These are only some of the many outward signs that there could be an underlying problem which could affect your child’s performance. If you have any problems with these then as we say the fi rst port of call is the G.P. to have it checked, then to have open and honest dialogue with your child and get them to open up.

The next step is to look at how you may be treating your child, think about how you are communicating, what pressures are you placing on the child, what are you holding them to ransom over, do you make them feel guilty, are you continually comparing them to other children, are you over-working them, what is the atmosphere like at home and when travelling to an event. It is also important to consider the relationships that your child has with other children, that includes school friends, brothers and sisters, the other children in the street that they might play with, the other children at the race track, as again it could simply be that the other areas of your child’s life are fine but the children at say the race track are name calling and generally being obnoxious and are picking on the child.

So be more aware of the bigger picture of what is happening in your child’s life. The hardest job in the world is to be a great parent, it is a constant battle. We aren’t given a magic book when a child is born that tells how to do it right and to cope with and understand the constant changes they go through. The best place to start is by listening to them, nurture and care, encourage and support, help them to become independent and confident. If you have any questions then you can contact me via Karting magazine or alternatively email me at