Children, especially teens, often have stress in their lives.
Whether caused by the loss of a friend or loved one, a recent move, being teased or bullied, difficulties at home, or problems at school, childhood stress can lead to behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, headaches, drug use, and insomnia, among many other symptoms and medical problems.
Other symptoms of stress can include mood swings or temper tantrums in a younger child, withdrawing from friends and family, and aggression.
What Causes Kids to Have Stress?
Unfortunately, the source of stress for a child is frequently not so easy to recognize and parents are not always very good at noticing things that could be stressors, which can include things like:
- a change at daycare for preschool age children, including attending daycare for the first time, moving to a new room, having a new teacher, or changing to a new daycare, etc.
- having too much homework
- being over-scheduled with sports and other extracurricular activities
- having expectations for his performance that are unrealistic and too high or a fear of failure, despite of having good grades, having a lot of friends, etc.
- a divorce or death in a friend’s family, which can raise fears that the same thing could happen to his own parents
- poor self esteem
- watching something stressful on the news, such as a school shooting, terrorist attack, or natural disaster
- a chronic medical problem, like asthma or diabetes, or an acute medical problem, like a burn or broken leg
- a medical problem in a family member
- a traffic accident
- financial problems at home
Keep in mind that common childhood transitions, such as moving to a toddler bed, starting kindergarten, going to camp, starting puberty, beginning high school, and going off to college, etc., can be very stressful for some children.
The other confusing thing about stress is that the symptoms of being stressed do not always immediately follow whatever is causing the stress and the same situations don’t cause stress in all children or even for the same child at different stages in their life.
Helping Kids Cope With Stress
Although overlooked as many parents and children look for a quick fix for their problems with stress, it is important not to overlook the importance of regular exercise, a healthy diet, and a good night’s sleep to help them cope with any problems with any stress they are having.
Other ways to help your child cope with stress can include:
- scheduling more free time for your child, especially if being too busy is the source of her stress
- spending quality time with your child and give them plenty of opportunities to talk about their worries and problems
- eating dinner together each night as a family and having other routines or rituals that you stick to on a regular basis
- helping your child set realistic expectations for himself
- be prepared for stressful situations that you can anticipate, such as the birth of a new sibling, a move to a new city, or a parent who is going to have surgery
- giving your child age appropriate responsibilities and allowing him to overcome simple challenges on his own without always bailing him out, which can help teach them basic problem solving skills that he will need throughout his life
- teaching your child ways to relax, including diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, visual imagery, listening to music, reading, keeping a journal, and drawing, etc.
Your pediatrician can be a good resource if your need help managing your child’s level of stress, especially if your child’s symptoms from the stress are not temporary. A mental health professional, such as a counselor, child psychologist, and/or child psychiatrist, can also be very helpful for the overly stressed child or even for a child who does not routinely handle stress well.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Facts for Families. No. 66; Updated Feb 2013. Stress Management and Teens. Accessed May 2016.
Last Updated on October 2, 2016 by Vincent Iannelli, MD