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Definitions, theories, and measurement of stress in children

      Highlights

      • Children experience stress daily, which may be exacerbated by major events such as pandemics.
      • Stress in childhood may have lasting detrimental effects through adulthood.
      • There are many ways to classify and measure stress in children.
      • Healthcare providers and clinicians need to recognize and measure stress in children.

      Abstract

      Problem

      Stress in children remains a complex concept to examine due to the inherent subjectivity and lack of specific manifestations, as well as the multiple ways stress can be defined and measured in children. Because stress is multifactorial,is experienced daily by children, and undergirds adolescent health and early mental illness, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of stress and the effects of stress in children from infancy through age twelve years.

      Eligibility criteria

      To be included in this review, literature must pertain to and highlight theories, definitions/classifications, and measurements of stress in children from infancy to 12 years of age.

      Sample

      The most pertinent articles identified through database searches (PubMed, Scopus, PsycINFO, CINAHL, Google Scholar), gray literature sources (e.g., child health websites), and reference lists of identified articles were included in this narrative overview.

      Results

      The results of this review are organized by themes and include: classifications and definitions of stress, stress-related theories, and tools to measure stress in children.

      Conclusions

      Research addressing stressors and stress in children is limited, and there is wide variation in how researchers define and classify stress in children. Existing measures of stress in children younger than 12 address physiological, psychological, and observational components, but may be inconsistent and threaten validity of otherwise well-designed and well-executed studies.

      Implications

      Improving the understanding and accurate measurement of stress in children enables researchers and clinicians to curtail undesirable health outcomes.

      Keywords

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