In the past, stress is something that is not often associated with childhood or pre-teen years. This is because kids were more preoccupied with playing, making friends, and simply doing everything (including their schoolwork) without a care in the world.
But with more demanding coursework (that typically becomes more taxing every year), access to media, and a lifestyle that can easily change in the blink of an eye, children are no longer immune to stress. They are possibly even bombarded by pressure every day without you noticing it.
A trusted child psychologist from Bondi Junction, New South Wales says that the earlier you spot signs of stress and anxiety in your child, the better his or her prognosis will be. All interventions will prove to be helpful and effective as well.
Signs and Symptoms of Childhood Stress
How can you tell if your child is already under too much stress? Here are seven signs you have to watch out for:
1. Problems at school
The need to do well in school and to fit in are typical causes of stress for kids. When they are unable to manage their schedule, they will have difficulties coping with and meeting various academic and social demands.
As a result, they will fail (intentionally or unintentionally) to study for quizzes and exams. And these will cause their grades to take a dip.
If your child always had good grades before but now has low or failing marks, it may be a sign that he or she is under intense stress.
2. Difficulty concentrating and completing assignments
Observe your child as he or she does his or her homework or projects. Is he or she easily distracted that he or she can’t finish anything? Or does your child seem so spaced out that he or she doesn’t even know he or she is doing?
The inability to concentrate on schoolwork will have repercussions on your child’s performance in school as well. Failing to complete graded assignments or projects or submitting poorly done or researched work will cause him or her to get low or failing marks.
3. Sleep disruption
If your child suddenly has trouble falling or staying asleep, he or she may already be experiencing severe stress.
Unfortunately, this symptom doesn’t stop here; if your child has sleeping issues, he or she may also start having frequent nightmares. He or she may even experience night terrors and sleepwalking in the future.
And when your child doesn’t get enough sleep every night, he or she will have a harder time tolerating stress. It is a cruel cycle that can go on and on.
4. Changes in eating habits
Kids experiencing severe stress will often have changes in their eating habits as well.
Some children may have an increased appetite which will cause them to eat more and more frequently. They tend to gravitate towards unhealthy food options as well.
Other kids under extreme pressure, however, will suddenly lose their appetite. They will be unable to finish their food or even eat anything.
The sudden increase or lack of appetite can be one of the most worrisome signs you will come across regarding childhood stress. It is one of the first things you have to address as well.
5. Increased irritability and aggression
Teenagers and pre-teen kids are often moody. However, if your child becomes easily irritable over trivial things, he or she may already be feeling overwhelmed by various pressures.
Stressed-out younger children, on the other hand, can sometimes become physically aggressive. They may hit, kick, or even bite people for no reason at all. They may also resort to screaming and name calling when they are annoyed.
6. Sudden changes in behaviour
Kids that are under extreme stress need to release pent-up negative energy. Unfortunately, most of the time, they don’t know how to do this properly. As a result, they will have temper tantrums, become disobedient, or run away. They may even start bullying other kids.
Some kids will even develop other bad habits that they have already outgrown. These include thumb sucking, nose picking, and hair twirling. Other extremely anxious children may even begin missing toileting cues again and thus wet their beds at night.
7. Social withdrawal
Lastly, exceptionally stressful situations such as moving, divorce, or bullying in school can cause kids to be really frightened and even left out.
If your child is feeling these emotions, he or she will likely withdraw further. This means he or she won’t interact with you or other people no matter how much you encourage him or her to do so.
This is another troubling sign that you have to address immediately as well.
The upside to childhood stress is that there are simple things you can do to help your child manage stress. Start by teaching him or her basic time management skills and how to release stress properly (through breathing exercises, yoga, sports, etc.).
Remind your child that he or she can talk to you about anything and that you are always there for him or her. More importantly, you can get help from a professional if your child is still having difficulties coping with stress.
Dr. Gemma Gladstone is an endorsed clinical psychologist and certified schema therapist, supervisor and trainer. Along with Justine Corry, she is co-director of the Good Mood Clinic in Sydney and has 24 years of experience within mental health.