By Vicki Kirkman, LCSW, LCAC – May 13, 2022 –
Stress is a natural part of life and something that everyone experiences. It can be positive or negative and affect your daily life greatly if not managed appropriately. In some situations, stress can motivate us to do better or work toward hard-to-reach goals. Other circumstances can leave someone feeling overwhelmed, anxious and out of control.
Children and teens are affected by stress in several ways. Parents need to remember that all children respond to situations and experiences differently. What causes stress for one child or teen might not affect another one. However, some stressors are common for children and teens. These stressors include pressure at school, being involved in too many after school activities or conflict with friends and family.
Other big and complicated issues like divorce, death of a loved one, drug use, and financial problems at home contribute to stress. Medical illnesses and world events like natural disasters or war and conflict can also be sources of stress.
It’s important for parents to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress in their children and help them manage it in a healthy manner. Young children who are stressed may complain of stomach aches, headaches or say they just don’t feel well.
They may try to avoid attending school or visit the school nurse frequently. They may also be more tearful than normal, have trouble sleeping, wet the bed or not eat as much at meals. Some children experience nightmares or have acting-out behaviors such as outbursts or tantrums.
Teenagers can experience many physical reactions to stress, including digestive problems, headaches, tense muscles, racing heart, frequent colds and fatigue. Teens might also feel overly emotional, irritable, depressed and experience mood swings.
Mentally, teens with stress overload may feel forgetful, lack concentration and have a negative attitude. Both children and teens often withdraw from activities they enjoy and isolate themselves from friends if they experience too much stress.
Parents can play a key role in helping their children and teens manage stress. Most importantly, parents can model good coping skills and stress management in their own lives. If children see their parents deal with stress in a healthy and positive manner, they are more likely to apply that to their own life.
Other ways parents can help their children are listed below.
- Teach your kids how to identify their body’s cues for stress overload. Pay attention to headaches, upset stomach, tearfulness or tense muscles.
- Limit extra-curricular activities. Too many evenings participating in sports, extra lessons, or just running errands can cause kids and teens to become tired and pressed for time to do homework or just relax.
- Prepare ahead of time to avoid extra hassles. Lay out the next day’s clothes, pack lunches, put homework and bags in an easy place to grab, etc.
- Monitor and limit exposure to television, social media and cell phone. Phones should be put away at night so kids can sleep and not be tempted to text friends or surf the internet.
- Encourage relaxation and leisurely activities with friends and family.
- Get plenty of rest and eat a healthy diet.
- Teach communication skills like problem solving, good decision making and sharing feelings and thoughts with others.
- Recognize when stress is too big to tackle alone. Don’t hesitate to speak to a Youth First Social Worker in your child’s school, counselor or doctor for extra support and help.
Stress management is crucial in life and best handled with the guidance of parents and supportive adults. By helping children and teens manage stress, they can be better prepared for life’s challenges.