Recognizing Signs
of Stress in Children

We have collectively faced some of the most significant challenges over the past few years. We are still recovering in many ways. The human body is naturally designed to defend when faced with a perceived or real threat. Stress hormones elevate and the body physically reacts. We know that sustained high levels of stress make children more prone to health problems, depression and anxiety and can affect development when it occurs in earlier stages of life. Learning and general functioning can also take a significant hit.

Anxiety disorders remain one of the most common mental health issues today. Recent statistics reported by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America indicate that more than 40 million adults experience anxiety every year and 31.9 percent of adolescents have anxiety disorders. 

Learning to manage stress is a vital life skill. Coping strategies can help minimize negative outcomes, build resilience and provide necessary tools to navigate the pitfalls of life. The earlier children learn these skills, the more prepared they are to implement them when challenges arise. There are many steps you can take to help your child get started.

Signs of Stress. Recognizing stress is not always easy! Sometimes adults struggle with recognizing pressure until they lash out or become overwhelmed. The more children become familiar with their emotions and physiological reactions to stress, the better equipped they are to manage the problem that’s brewing. Some signs include sleep or appetite changes, loss of motivation or trouble concentrating. Other signs include irritability or physical complaints like stomachaches or headaches.

Determine the Source. Parents take many steps to provide a safe, predictable and relaxing home environment. However, some sources of stress are hidden. I use checklists with my clients to help screen for situations that could be contributing to their stress and changes in emotions or behaviors. Positive experiences like moving, vacations, graduations or new pets can create stress. Many children benefit from extracurricular activities and involvement; however, it becomes even more important to monitor your child’s well-being and adjust as necessary.

Take Action. One of the most uncomfortable feelings is finding ourselves in a situation that is beyond our control. Life often presents us with health matters, instability, drastic life changes or unexpected outcomes. Children are not immune to these circumstances. When facing a challenge, grab a pencil and some paper and make four columns to list stressors, things you can control, the things you cannot control and action steps. Approaching obstacles in this manner can help you visually sort through the problem and make it manageable. While many things are out of our control, several things are within. Spend more time focused on the action steps and the parts of the problem that can be solved.