Young people, like adults, experience stress. Stress for children and teens can come from a variety of sources including doing well in school, making and sustaining friendships, or managing perceived expectations from their parents, teachers, or coaches.
Some stress can be positive in that it provides the energy to tackle a big test, presentation, or sports event. Too much stress, however, can create unnecessary hardship and challenge. And adults can sometimes be unaware when their children or teens are experiencing overwhelming feelings of stress.
Here are some tips from the American Psychological Association (APA) on ways to recognize possible signs of stress in children and teens:
Watch for negative changes in behavior. Youth of all ages, especially younger children, may find it difficult to recognize and verbalize when they are experiencing stress. For children, stress can manifest itself through changes in behavior. Common changes can include acting irritable or moody, withdrawing from activities that used to give them pleasure, routinely expressing worries, complaining more than usual about school, crying, displaying surprising fearful reactions, clinging to a parent or teacher, sleeping too much or too little, or eating too much or too little.
- Understand that “feeling sick” may be caused by stress. Stress can also appear in physical symptoms such as stomach aches and headaches. If a child makes excessive trips to the school nurse or complains of frequent stomach aches or headaches (when they have been given a clean bill of health by their physician), or if these complaints increase in certain situations (e.g., before a big test) that child may be experiencing significant stress.
- Be aware of how your child or teen interacts with others. Sometimes a child or teen who seems like his or her usual self at home may act out in unusual ways in other settings. It is important for parents to network with one another so they can share observations as to how a child or teen is doing. In addition to communicating with other parents, being in contact with teachers, school administrators, and leaders of extracurricular activities can help parents tap into their child or teen’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and be aware of any sources of concern.
- Listen and translate. Because children are often not familiar with the word stress and its meaning, they may express feelings of distress through other words such as “worried,” “confused,” “annoyed,” and “angry.” Children and teens may also express feelings of stress by saying negative things about themselves, others, or the world around them (e.g. “No one likes me,” “I’m stupid,” “Nothing is fun.”). It is important for parents to listen for these words and statements and try to figure out why your child or teen is saying them and whether they seem to indicate a source or sources of stress.
- Seek support. Parents, children, and teens do not need to tackle overwhelming stress on their own. If a parent is concerned that his or her child or teen is experiencing significant warning signs of stress on a regular basis, including, but not limited to those described above, it can be helpful to work with a licensed mental health professional who specializes in helping people to identify sources of concern and develop effective strategies to resolve them.
To speak with a St. Vincent Evansville provider about stress in young people, please contact me at 812-485-4897 to schedule an interview.