Stress in Kids

Stress is a common, normal, and sometimes even healthy response to the many new adventures in childhood. It’s usually viewed as only a bad thing, but sometimes stress (a little bit of it, that is) can be a source of motivation for children. Even good events in a child’s life can bring stress, such as a dance recital, the holidays, or graduation. Stress serves a purpose: that purpose is preparation. Stress signals the brain and body to prepare for change or indicates that something new is about to occur. However, stress in high or excess amounts can cause an onslaught of issues for children to have to deal with.

How Stress Presents Differently in Kids than Adults

Stress shows up differently in children than adults. Scenarios that may seem insignificant to adults can be extremely stressful to children. Many situations that adults can reasonably manage could end up sending a child into a tailspin of anxiety. Their stress response can be a lot more physical than adults, and may even occupy their whole body and mind, making it difficult for a child to concentrate on anything else. Adults can conceptualize and verbalize their emotions and what they’re experiencing. Children, on the other hand, do not have the cognitive maturity to decipher through their many emotions themselves internally, let alone verbalize how they’re feeling. 

Adults can bounce back from stress in a more resilient manner, as their bodies and minds are more capable of handling it. Children simply have not yet had enough experience dealing with stress. Their resilience to stress will continue to strengthen and develop over time the more experience they acquire.

Types of Stressors

There are many different catalysts for stress in a child’s life. Social stress is chief among them. Navigating relationships and social interactions can sometimes be stressful, especially for young children who are just learning how to make friends, build healthy friendships, and keep them long-term. If your child is an introvert, social stress is likely to be even more prevalent as social interactions do not come as easily to introverts. Family stress and parental stress are also a part of this. If a parent is putting unnecessary or unreasonably high expectations on their child, this can cause excessive stress.

Children can experience stress simply from having a schedule that’s too busy. Extracurricular activities are wonderful for children in many ways, but too many obligations and too much hustle can have the reverse effect and be stress-inducing. Developmental stress, which is stress that comes from the natural process of growing up, hitting milestones, and changing, can also impact children.

How Stress Affects Sleep

Stress greatly impacts a person’s sleep quality. It causes difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, and, in some cases, nightmares. This is primarily due to the fact that, when a person experiences stress, their body’s levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, are increased and this impairs sleep. 

Recognizing Stress in Kids 

Signs of stress can look similar in children as it does in adults, or these signs may present differently in children than adults. You may notice your child experiencing frequent worry or anxiety. New fears, aggression, emotional instability, and clinginess are all signs that your child is enduring stress. They may also be exhibiting an inability to truly relax, an inability to concentrate, and changes in typical demeanor or personality. All of these emotional symptoms can impair the relationships in their life.

Your child may also experience changes in appetite, which can also influence their body weight. They may drop weight if they have little to no appetite, or they may experience weight gain if their stress levels lead them to overeat. Stress and anxiety can manifest as physical illness symptoms, such as upset stomach, nausea, and headache.

Healthily Moving Forward 

Stress in life is inevitable, but what matters most is how one handles stress. Having healthy coping mechanisms in place that a child can utilize when encountering stress is the key to managing stress in a healthy, developmentally-appropriate way. Parents are a child’s main source of support, strength, and encouragement during turbulent times, so make sure you are being attentive and loving to your child during these times of stress. You will all get through it, together!

This information does not provide medical advice and is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for seeking professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please see full disclaimer.

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