Is Your Child Stressed Out?

Adult often have a mental picture of childhood as a happy, worry-free time in life. But just like adults who are juggling work, family and personal responsibilities, children can feel stress.

What is stress?  photo of stressed girl with school books

Stress is emotional or mental strain that is caused by anxiety, pressure, worry or activity. Not all stress is bad, though – stress can be a warning sign that alerts us to danger. When stressed, our bodies react entering the “fight or flight mode” created by a mix of hormones like adrenaline. When stressed, our bodies are preparing us to fight or run and our hearts pump faster, our breathing gets quicker and our senses become sharper. This was important when we were cave dwellers and needed the extra adrenaline to flee an attacker, but in modern times, stress can cause damage to us both mentally and physically. Frequent stress can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and other physical ailments. Chronic stress can also lead to depression, anxiety, personality changes and other mental health disorders.

Do Kids Really Get Stressed?

The simple answer is yes, kids experience both good and bad stress. School deadlines, conflict with peers or family members or even being asked to speak in front of people causes stress for kids. When parents argue, kids can become stressed. Having too many activities, not getting enough sleep or not eating properly can also cause stress for kids. Even the daily news about natural disasters, wars or terrorism can affect children. Toddlers can become stressed when separated from a parent, being picked up by a stranger, or encountering large animals.

Recognizing Stress in A Child

Because kids aren’t just tiny adults, they often show signs of stress in ways that are different from adults. They may have mood swings, stomach troubles, or act out. Other children may regress to behaviors they had given up, such as bedwetting or thumb sucking. Some other symptoms may include:

  • Headaches or stomach aches
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Nightmares
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in typical emotions – sad, angry, clingy
  • New fears at bedtime
  • Changes in how the child interacts with friends or family

Strategies For Coping With Stress

First, help your child talk about what he is feeling. She may not know the word for stress, but can talk about being angry or worried. Listen carefully to your child for cues about what could be causing him to be stressed. Some other strategies include:

  • Make sure your child is getting proper nutrition and plenty of rest
  • Try to anticipate stressful situations for your child and talk about them in advance
  • Work with your child to identify ways they can reduce stress by cutting back on activities, talking with teachers, or exercising more
  • Teach your child relaxation skills such as deep breathing, or tensing and relaxing muscles
  • Help your child learn to manage her time and organize her school work
  • If your child is over scheduled, cut down on the activities. Kids need down time, too, and time just to think and play.
  • Teach your child to recognize when they are feeling stressed and deal with it by slowing down, deep breathing or other methods

As a parent, you cannot keep your child from experiencing stress but you can give him support and help in dealing with it. As they grow, children will use those strategies to manage their physical and emotional reactions to stressful situations well into adulthood.

If you need professional assistance or counseling to cope with stress, please contact Clay Behavioral Health Center at 904.291.5561 or Email info@ccbhc.org.