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Stress in Kids

Though it’s easy to think that stress only affects adults who have bills and appointments to worry about, kids feel stressed sometimes too. They can even have anxiety.

The following information is related to mild stress levels in kids. If your child suffers from severe or chronic stress or anxiety or has experienced a traumatic episode, visit your doctor for information on how to best help.

What Causes Kids Stress?

Stress is caused by a sense of being overwhelmed or not up to the task of completing something that needs doing. In kids, it can be caused by:

  • Being separated from caregivers, such as when going to daycare or school.
  • Academics and social issues in older kids.
  • Too many activities and not enough downtime or creative outlets.
  • Exposure to hearing about adults’ stress.
  • Hearing about or seeing troubling news reports. Kids can start to worry about things they see on TV happening to them.
  • Illness of themselves or a person in their life.
  • Loss of family members to death or divorce.

There are as many sources of stress in kids as there are in adults, and this isn’t an exhaustive list. Children can be deeply troubled and worry about things that might not even occur to the adults around them.

Signs of Stress in Kids

Children don’t always come right out and tell the caregivers that they’re feeling stressed. Instead, they might show it in a variety of ways. Those include:

  • More tantrums or meltdowns.
  • Mood swings.
  • New bed wetting.
  • Newly developed thumb sucking or nail chewing.
  • Stomachaches or headaches.
  • Not wanting to leave the primary caregiver.
  • Nightmares.
  • Changes in academic performance.

Again, this is not an exhaustive list, and any change in behavior in a child should be noted and watched carefully.

How to Help a Child with Stress

Here are some basic ways to help kids with stress. You can modify these to work for your individual circumstances.

  • Kids who aren’t getting enough sleep or good food will be less able to deal appropriately with stress. Make sure you’re prioritizing regular bedtimes and encouraging good sleeping and nutrition habits.
  • Model excellent coping skills yourself. Take time for self-care and show your child that it’s important to honor your own feelings and slow down when necessary.
  • Don’t minimize your child’s feelings by saying things like, “Oh, don’t worry about that,” or, “That’s not a big deal.” Instead, validate the feelings and help your child understand that nothing is permanent. The emotions will fade and change over time.
  • Spend one-on-one time with the child daily. Let your kid choose what to do, and spend time every day giving your full, undivided attention to him or her. That time allows your child to feel connected and important to you, which automatically helps them cope better.
  • If your child can tell you they are stressed and why, listen and don’t diminish. Brainstorm ways your child thinks the stress could be decreased and be open to allowing him or her to implement those changes.
  • Find age-appropriate books about stress in general or the specific situation bothering your child. Books are a great way to give kids information and tools about what they’re going through.

For more specific tips on helping a child with stress and anxiety, check out this article: “Helping a Child with Stress and Anxiety.”

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