Stress is a natural occurrence in life, impacting both children and adults. In some cases, stress can be a positive factor in learning more about ourselves and growing as individuals. In contrast, suffering from too much stress can create many challenges. Children and adolescents can feel stress about doing well in school, excelling in sports or maintaining friendships, to name a few. It can be difficult for adults to know when children are becoming overwhelmed or experiencing feelings of stress. The American Psychological Association (APA) has tips on ways to recognize possible signs of stress in children and adolescents.
Adapted from the American Psychological Association (APA)
Tips for Identifying Signs of Stress in Your Child or Teen.
- Watch for negative changes in behavior: Children may find it difficult to verbalize when they are experiencing stress. These feelings can manifest themselves through changes in behavior. Common changes include irritability, withdrawing from activities, expressing worries or crying. Negative changes in behavior may also include changes in sleeping patterns or appetite.
- Physical symptoms that may be caused by stress: Some children experience stomachaches, headaches or other symptoms of feeling sick. Parents may notice that their child is making excessive trips to the school nurse or frequently complaining about not feeling well, even when given a good report from their physician. Families may notice patterns with these complaints, for example, always feeling ill before a big test.
- Have an awareness of how your child or teen is interacting with others: Young people may seem like their usual self at home, while acting out in unusual ways in other settings. Keeping the lines of communication open between teachers, coaches, mentors and other parents can help families understand how their child or teen is doing outside of the home.
- Listen and translate: Some children and teens may not be able to clearly express their feelings of distress. They may report feeling worried, confused, annoyed or angry. Kids making comments such as, “I can’t do anything right,” or “Nothing is fun,” maybe trying to express that they are feeling stressed. As parents, it is important to listen to your child or teen while trying to determine why they are feeling this way or what may be possible sources of stress.
- Seek support: If a parent is concerned that their child or teen is suffering from symptoms of stress on a regular basis, it may be helpful to work with a professional such as a counselor or psychologist. Tackling overwhelming stress is not something that parents need to do alone. Specialists can provide strategies to help alleviate negative feelings and challenges associated with stress.