Stress in Children and Teens
Children and young people also experience stress: from pressure to do well in school, make friends, or meet expectations from parents, teachers or coaches. Positive stress can provide the energy to tackle a big test, presentation or sports event. Too much stress, however, can create unnecessary hardship and challenge.
Adults may not realize their children or teens are experiencing overwhelming stress so tuning into emotional or behavioral cues is important.
Here are some tips to recognize stress in children:
Negative changes in behavior
Youth, but especially younger children, find it difficult to verbalize when they are experiencing stress but it can manifest itself through changes in behavior: acting irritable or moody, withdrawing from activities that used to be fun, routinely expressing worries, complaining more than usual about school, crying, displaying surprising fearful reactions, clinging to a parent or teacher, sleeping too much or too little or eating too much or too little.
Teens may significantly avoid parents, abandon longtime friends or express excessive hostility toward family members. This behavior is not always linked to excessive stress, but negative changes in behavior are almost always a clear sign that something is wrong.
“Feeling sick” may be caused by stress
Stress can also appear in physical symptoms. Excessive trips to the school nurse, frequent stomachaches or headaches (when they have been given a clean bill of health by their physician) or an increase in complaints in certain situations (before a big test) may indicate significant stress.
Changes in interactions with others
Sometimes a child or teen may seem like his or her usual self at home but be acting out in unusual ways in other settings. Network with other parents, teachers, school administrators and extracurricular activity coaches, so that you know how your child or teen is doing in the world around them.
Listen and translate
Children may use other words for stress such as “worried,” “confused,” “annoyed” and “angry.” They may also say negative things about themselves, others or the world around them (“No one likes me,” “I’m stupid,” “Nothing is fun.”).
If you are concerned that your child or teen is experiencing stress on a regular basis, like symptoms described above, get help from a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist. Psychologists have special training to help people identify problems and develop effective strategies to resolve overwhelming feelings of stress.