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Your child or teen can feel stress, too

Most adults have occasional stress in their lives. When it comes to children, people often assume their world is happy and stress-free. While they may not have adult responsibilities, even very young children experience stress sometimes. 

Stress can contribute to physical ailments as well as emotional health disorders, risky behaviors and substance abuse. As the school year progresses, children and youth are likely to feel increased stress. Here are a few suggestions to help them recognize and manage their stress.

Sources of stress

Stress is a normal psychological reaction to the demands of life – whether real or imagined. It can result from:

  • Increasing academic demands
  • No downtime, being overscheduled
  • World events – natural disasters, war and terrorism
  • Divorce or family relationships, which can make child feel insecure or anxious

Signs and symptoms of stress

  • Behavioral changes — mood swings, nervous habits (nail biting, thumb sucking) lying, acting out or overreacting
  • Physical ailments, such as stomach aches 
  • Sleep problems or nightmares
  • Difficulty concentrating or completing schoolwork
  • Changes in academic performance
  • Withdrawal from friends or family

Helping your child cope with stress

Even if the child doesn’t ask for it, they likely could use some help in dealing with their problems. Teaching healthy coping skills will help them cope and better manage stress in the future.

  • Acknowledge. Let your child know they are stressed and that you care.
  • Listen. If your child shares information with you, listen attentively and patiently. Don’t judge or blame. 
  • Understand. Feeling understood and supported may help ease their stress level and anxiety.
  • Discuss solutions.Encourage your child to think of a ways to reduce the stress on their own. 
  • Limit stress where possible.If certain situations are causing stress, see if there are ways to change or reduce them. 
  • Just be present. Don’t force discussion if your child doesn’t feel like talking about what's bothering tem. Let your kids know you'll be there if they do feel like talking.
  • Anticipate and plan for potentially stressful situations. For example, discuss possible responses to stress ahead of time, and time management for meeting deadlines.
  • Encourage journaling. Sometimes just writing things down can help work through problems.
  • Encourage exercise. Physical activity naturally helps improve mood, assists with problem solving and reduces anxiety. 
  • Reassure. Let child know that stress is normal and everyone experiences it. Reassure them that you're confident they will be able to handle the situation.
  • Be patient. Try not to fix the problem, but rather focus on helping your child slowly grow into a good problem-solver. 

If stress is causing serious anxiety, or behavior is causing significant problems that may have a negative impact on your child’s life, it may be time to seek professional attention. Consult your doctor or the school counselors and teachers.

About Tara Katz DO

Tara Katz, DO, is a family medicine physician at Ascension Medical Group in Andover, Kansas.