As summer begins, many parents may heave a sigh at relief. During the school year children and teens are constantly busy with final exams, projects, sports championships and academic competitions. It is easy to see how it could quickly become overwhelming for anyone, especially a child. Parents are all too familiar with the moans, groans and complaints they may hear from their kids, but how can you tell when it might be something more serious?
Some level of stress for children can be natural, in the case of a toddler spending time away from their mother for the first time, or a child starting at a new school. However, excessive or long-term stress can be extremely detrimental. Major stressors can include (but are not limited to) doing well in school, overscheduling, relationships with friends, bullying, or managing high expectations from friends, family and teachers. Other times, major life events like divorce, loss of a loved one, or even a disturbing world event can all deeply impact a child’s coping mechanisms.
JFS Family/Child Counselor Jill Campbell, LCSW, says that the way stress manifests itself can vary greatly from one child to another, as age and other factors influence differences. She notes, “If the stress starts to impact their ability to perform daily tasks, then it should be evaluated.”
The following are common signs that a child’s stress may be more serious. It is important to remember though that these behaviors do not always mean stress is the cause.
Signs of stress:
- Excessive crying
- Fearful behavior
- Change in sleep patterns
- Complaining more than usual
- Constant worrying
- Avoiding activities they usually enjoy
- Clinging to parents
- Complaints of physical pain, even after a doctor or nurse have said the child is physically healthy.
- Acting differently (in a significant way) around their classmates and friends
For many children and teens, verbalizing their stress can be the hardest part. “I’m angry” may be the only way for a younger child to express their feelings of stress. Alternately, expressing constant negative thoughts could be the way a teen signals to a parent that the problem is bigger. Sometimes events that seem normal to an adult can be a major stressor for a child. For example, a move or a visit to somewhere new can cause feelings of anxiety or fear in a child. Whatever the reason, it is important to take their concerns seriously.
So how can a parent help their child? Campbell says, “Reassuring them, listening to them and trying to identify the true triggers of stress are steps a family can take.” Just being available for a child can make a huge difference. Quality time with family can have a positive impact on stress levels. Most parents will find they have the skills themselves to help children cope. Jill notes that if stress starts to impact daily tasks for a child, or seems more serious, families may want to seek outside resources. A counselor can work with a child and family to target causes of stress and develop management techniques.
For families interested in more information, resources or counseling for their child, you can find more info at http://www.jfsrichmond.org/counseling/