Kids are Stressed Out
- Diseases That May Be Related to Stress
- Categorizing Stress Among Children
- How Can You Tell if Your Child Has Tolerable Stress or Toxic Stress?
- Signs and Symptoms Your Kid is Stressed
- Raising Happy Kids, Stress-free Kids, Naturally
A 2018 poll among thousands of high school students found that almost 45 percent felt stressed “all the time.” Other research shows that stress teens confront can rival what adults feel. Even young children aren’t immune to the growing epidemic of stress.
Stress for children comes from many sources. School, peer pressure, homework, the constant flow of bad news on TV, and social media are among the things that kids stress about. Bullying and other extreme situations at school or otherwise can only increase that stress.
But stress might come from how children feel: What they should be doing such as getting straight A’s, rather than doing the best that they can.
A certain amount of stress — say, to do well on an exam — is normal and even healthy to help children become emotionally stronger and more resilient to life’s demands. But too much stress can be detrimental and jeopardize a child’s health and overall quality of life.
Diseases That May Be Related to Stress
The impact of chronic stress on children can become extremely damaging. Stress may contribute to an increased risk for diseases including:
- Heart problems
Research shows that chronic stress can even impact a child’s brain development and weaken other organs, creating lifelong health and social problems.
Categorizing Stress Among Children
Stress typically comes in two “varieties”: The acute stress a child might feel before a piano recital. This kind of stress is usually short-lived and might even help the child perform better.
Chronic stress, on the other hand, lingers far beyond how the stress response should work. That’s where health and developmental problems can occur.
Harvard University elaborates that childhood stress into three categories:
- Positive stress response is normal and might include encountering a new school teacher.
- Tolerable stress response might include the loss of a loved one or an injury. Though uncomfortable, the body’s alert system can usually cope with this situation.
- Toxic stress response occurs during strong, frequent, and/or prolonged stressors. They include physical or emotional abuse, bullying, and exposure to violence. Over-activating the stress response systems can have wide-reaching effects on the developing child’s brain and body.
How Can You Tell if Your Child Has Tolerable Stress or Toxic Stress?
Determining between those last two categories — a tolerable stress response versus a toxic stress response — might feel challenging. To complicate matters, researchers find a disconnect between what children say they stress about and what their parents think stresses them out.
The American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) latest Stress in America, show disconnect can create long-term implications for children’s mental and physical health.
Take headaches: Whereas over one in three children reported headaches during the past month in this survey, only 13 percent of parents linked those headaches to stress.
Ditto with sleep: While 44 percent of children reported sleeping difficulties, only 13 percent of parents connected that with stress.
You might misjudge what creates stress, but you might also be creating additional stress. (Sorry, mom and dad.)
Perhaps you feel overwhelmed financially or with parenting. Maybe you are stressed from work and your child can “feel” this stress expressed by you. A sick relative or death of a loved one — even a pet — can increase those stressors.
As adults, we’ve learned to cope with and manage stress to some level. Kids don’t have those same coping mechanisms, so what might feel a minor frustration for us can create significant stress for kids.
Signs and Symptoms Your Kid is Stressed
But you can watch for signs and symptoms. Even if your child can’t verbally express stress, he or she might show stress with their behavior. Some signs and symptoms of stress you might look for include:
- Behavioral changes including mood swings, sleep pattern changes, suddenly becoming clingy, or bedwetting
- Physical changes such as headaches
- Academic performance
- Social isolation
- New habits such as thumb sucking or chronic lying
Raising Happy Kids, Stress-free Kids, Naturally
You can’t take away the stress your child feels. You can, however, help your kid dial down those stress levels and develop coping mechanisms that make them more able to deal with stress in healthy ways. Here are 10 natural ways to help your kids deal with stress.
- Create stability. New surroundings and uncertainties about the future are among the many things that create stress in children. You can create a stable, safe environment where kids can express their thoughts and concerns. That might include a family dinner night every week, watching a fun movie, taking a hike, or having one-on-one time at the mall with your child.
- Be optimistic and affirmative. Children pick up on subtle language and behavior patterns. Listening, giving positive feedback, using affirmative language that helps them feel empowered, and helping them develop the right mindset to feel in control over situations are among the tactics that can help your child succeed to minimize stress.
- Monitor media content. Our 24-hour news cycle often comes filled with stories about violence, war, political strife, and other situations that can potentially elevate stress among kids. Social media, as well as TV and movies, only add to that disconnect. Set restrictions about what your children view, including parental limits on electronics, as well as how much time they engage with media daily.
- Don’t over-schedule. You know how stressful juggling an ever-expanding to-do list can feel. Your child might feel that same stress when they’re racing from soccer practice to choir group as they think about their homework and home chores that they still have to do. Finding that balance might feel like a challenge, but doing so helps children develop healthy lifelong habits.
- Acknowledge their feelings. Feeling ignored or invalidated can only worsen a child’s stress. On the other end, you don’t want to force your child to discuss a stressful situation if they aren’t ready. Let them know you’re there to talk or listen, remain present, and be the example you want them to become.
- Create quality time. Children know when you’re present versus when you’re multitasking or have other things on your mind. Time is the best gift you can give your kids to alleviate stress. For younger kids, that might mean sitting down for an hour and putting together a puzzle. For adolescents, sometimes just being 100 percent present can help them open up and dial down stress levels.
- Discuss solutions. Try talking about your own coping strategies. The ways you cope with stress may or may not help your child as they develop their own ways of learning to cope. Those strategies might involve journaling, deep breathing, walking the dog, or spending active downtime with a good friend.
- Support sufficient sleep. Late nights distracting stress with electronics are among the things that cut into a child’s sleep time. In time, children will learn what you know and studies show: Sleep deprivation amplifies stress levels. Set boundaries to ensure they get a good night’s sleep. Have a lights-out, no-electronics rule after a certain time. And encourage them to practice good sleep hygiene: Take a hot bath, breathe deeply, avoid stimulating substances like caffeine and stimulating media like action movies before bed.
- Encourage regular physical activity. Nothing quite alleviates stress like a good workout. Unfortunately, shortened or non-existent recess time and PE classes mean fewer children get adequate exercise. Make moving more mandatory, whether that means going with you to the gym, playing sports with friends, jumping rope, doing yoga, or simply playing outside.
- Be that example. Kids model your own behavior. If they see you handle stress in a detrimental manner, they’re less likely to cope with their own stress. Managing stress becomes crucial: To help them manage theirs and to be the role model they need you to be as they become strong, healthy adults.
Finally, get help if necessary. No one should have to struggle with that feeling of insurmountable, debilitating stress. If you notice significant amounts of stress despite incorporating these strategies to help your child cope, talk with a healthcare practitioner for the right support.