Is Your Child Stressed Out?

By Dr. John Ackerman
Teen stressed on the steps

While many adults know the symptoms of too much stress and realize what to watch out for in themselves, sometimes it might be more challenging to identify stress in children.

A certain amount of stress is a normal part of development, but too much of it, or stress that goes on for too long can be unhealthy.

There are many different kinds of behaviors that children will exhibit when they are stressed and these signs can be different for younger children, older children and teenagers.

Younger Children

  • More likely to exhibit depression through restlessness, fidgeting and hyperactive behavior, whininess, clinginess and demanding behavior.
  • They might also complain of tummy aches, difficulty sleeping or even regress to doing things that they used to do when they were younger.
  • It is not uncommon for your preschooler to have an “accident” even though he/she has been potty trained.

Older Children and Teenagers

  • Might show signs of depression, like being sad or withdrawn.
  • They might have trouble eating or sleeping, or talk about feelings of hopelessness.
  • They may have more emotional outbursts, or they might include violent or aggressive themes in artwork or writing.
  • Older children and teens may also experience abdominal pain, headaches or chest pain.

What You Should Do About Stress

If the behavior changes that you are seeing in your child last longer than a few weeks or start to prevent your child from taking part in their usual activities, it is time to talk to your child’s doctor. Make sure you mention how long your child has been showing these signs or whether there are any circumstances in your child’s life that may have prompted the behavior.

There are many options for treatment and it will depend on your child’s situation. Your child may need to start speaking with a healthcare professional or you may need to begin to work with someone to help reduce the stress levels in your daily lives.

It’s important that your child gets enough sleep and eats a variety of healthy foods that will help prevent the stress from taking over.

Pay attention to your child’s environment and encourage family members to pay special attention to one another.

Another way to help your children is to encourage time where they can relax and unwind. Show them that physical exercise and play time are important.

It’s normal for children to have a wide range of feelings and some behavior changes during and following stressful events. Talk with your child about what behaviors you are seeing and share your concerns.

Remember to listen to what they have to say. Help your child identify what they are feeling and encourage them to put their feelings into words whenever possible. Provide positive attention and support when a child uses a positive way to manage the stress they are experiencing and let your children know they are not alone in dealing with stress. 

Dr. John Ackerman is a clinical psychologist for Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

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