It’s easy to think that your child’s life is filled with rainbows and sunshine and they have little to be concerned about – but a small stature does not always equal small worries. The truth is that childhood is a crucial stage where a lot of physical, emotional and cognitive growth takes place, and just like adults, children experience stress.
What causes stress and anxiety in children?
Stress is a function of the responsibilities we are given and our ability to carry them out. These demands usually come from external sources such as family, school or jobs. Stress can affect anybody who feels overwhelmed. Children can be affected by noise, a change in family dynamics, and the news they hear. Add that to their school workload, the pressure to succeed academically and be socially acceptable and you have the things that cause child stress.
Other causes of stress in children include:
1. School– If your child is getting bullied, not enjoying school work and getting too much homework, it can cause anxiety and stress.
2. Separation anxiety– Being separated from you when they go to school or you travel can lead to increased anxiety, clinginess, difficulties with goodbyes, or nervousness about being away from you.
3. Busy schedules– Over-scheduling them for different activities or rushing from place to place can create stress. If your agenda disregards a child’s routine, stress will occur.
4. Huge family changes– Death, divorce or moving house can cause stress. The combination of heightened emotions disrupted schedules, and unfamiliar routines can make the child feel stressed.
5. Big scary events– Natural disasters, school shootings, terrorist attacks and exposure to violence on the news can affect children. Even accidental exposure to a scary movie or commercials on television can stress your child.
Signs your child might be suffering from stress and anxiety
Children typically don’t know how to handle stress. Because of their emotional immaturity, they lack the skills to cope with stress, understand or explain it. Parents can sometimes be unaware when their children are experiencing overwhelming feelings of stress and anxiety.
The first thing to note is that each child is different, and will experience stress in different ways. Some kids demonstrate physical symptoms such as headaches. Others have trouble concentrating on schoolwork, while others become really withdrawn. Younger children may pick up new habits like nail biting and older kids may begin to lie or be mean to other kids. Here are some signs you should look out for:
Physical signs your child might be suffering from stress and anxiety
1. New habits– If your child suddenly develops a new obsessive habit such as thumb sucking, it is usually an indicator of stress.
2. Bedwetting– Children that are stressed may develop a change in their bowel movements which might lead to bedwetting. Make sure you control your anger if your child suddenly starts to wet the bed and reassure them instead.
3. Health complaints– Frequent complaints about headaches and stomach aches even when there’s no medical reason for them could also be a sign.
4. Change in appetite– A sudden change in eating habits might signify stress.
5. Night troubles– Sleep-related fear is a common response to stressful or traumatic events. If your child is afraid to go to sleep or starts having nightmares, they might be responding to stress.
6. Withdrawal– Moving to a new place, divorce, having a new sibling or bullying can make a child feel scared or left out and cause them to withdraw from family and friends.
Emotional signs your child might be suffering from stress and anxiety
1. Hyperactive behaviour- When children are overwhelmed, they might start to throw tantrums. If your child is constantly angry, disobedient and is more active than usual, it might signify a problem.
2. Trouble concentrating and completing schoolwork- Academic and social pressures can be a huge cause of stress for kids. They may also become really anxious if they’ve been scheduled for a lot of extracurricular activities.
3. Aggressive behaviour- Under stress, some children react with anger, physical or verbal aggression.
4. Emotional shift- They may exhibit a change in emotions and become clingy, sad, withdrawn or angry.
5. Excessive worry- If your child begins to get panic attacks, exaggerated fears about things such as natural events or worries about minor things, it might mean they’re stressed.
Solutions for your child’s stress or anxiety
As a parent, it’s important that you help your kids cope with stress. Proper rest and good nutrition are essential. Make time for your children. Help your child cope with stress by talking about what may be causing it. Together, you can come up with solutions such as cutting back on after-school activities, keeping a journal or starting a new hobby.
You can also help them anticipate potentially stressful situations by preparing their minds. For example, if you’re moving, you can make them feel involved in the process and allow them to make minor decisions so it seems like an exciting life change. Remember to tailor this information to your child’s age.
Also remember that at a basic level, stress is normal. Teach your child that it’s okay to feel sad, anxious, lonely or scared. Constantly reassure them that they’re capable of overcoming negative feelings.