As parents, we want our children to be happy, healthy, and thriving. However, the reality is that children can experience stress and anxiety just like adults do. As children navigate the ups and downs of school, friendships, and family life, they may experience a range of emotions that can be difficult to manage.
Here are some common and lesser-known signs that your child may be dealing with stress and anxiety, according to the experts at the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and The National Institute of Health. Plus, what you can do to help.
Changes in behavior: One of the most obvious signs that your child may be dealing with stress and anxiety is a change in behavior. This can include becoming more withdrawn, acting out, or becoming overly clingy. Your child may also seem more irritable or moody than usual.
Trouble sleeping: Sleep is essential for children’s growth and development, but stress and anxiety can disrupt sleep patterns. Your child may have trouble falling asleep, wake up frequently during the night, or wake up feeling tired.
Stomach problems: Stress and anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as stomach aches, nausea, and diarrhea. If your child is complaining of these symptoms without any other apparent cause, it may be a sign that they are struggling with stress and anxiety.
Changes in academic performance: School can be a major source of stress for children, particularly as they get older and face more academic and social pressures. If your child is feeling overwhelmed by schoolwork or struggling to keep up with their peers, it may be a sign that they are dealing with stress and anxiety.
Social withdrawal: Children who are dealing with stress and anxiety may start to withdraw from social activities and friendships. They may prefer to spend time alone or avoid activities they used to enjoy.
While the signs listed above are relatively common, there are other, lesser-known signs that your child may be struggling with stress and anxiety. These signs can be harder to spot, but are no less important to recognize and address.
Changes in appetite: Stress and anxiety can impact appetite in different ways. Some children may lose their appetite and eat less than usual, while others may turn to food for comfort and overeat. If you notice a significant change in your child's eating habits, it may be worth exploring whether they are dealing with stress and anxiety.
Getting sick more often: Stress and anxiety can take a toll on the immune system, making children more susceptible to illness. If your child seems to be getting sick more often than usual, it may be a sign that they are dealing with stress and anxiety.
Difficulty concentrating: Children who are struggling with stress and anxiety may find it hard to concentrate on tasks or stay focused. They may also become forgetful or disorganized, which can further impact their ability to succeed in school or other areas of life.
Physical symptoms: In addition to stomach problems, stress and anxiety can cause a range of physical symptoms that may not be immediately obvious. These can include headaches, muscle tension, and even chest pain. If your child is experiencing unexplained physical symptoms, it may be worth exploring whether they are related to stress and anxiety.
Perfectionism: While striving for excellence is admirable, perfectionism can be a sign of underlying stress and anxiety. Children who feel like they need to be perfect may become overly self-critical, anxious, and avoid taking risks.
Here are a few suggestions:
Talk to your child: Encourage your child to open up about how they are feeling. Let them know that it is okay to feel stressed or anxious, and that you are there to support them. Active listening is key here — make sure your child knows that you are truly hearing and understanding them. Avoid dismissing their concerns or telling them to "just relax."
Create a calm and supportive environment: Children who are dealing with stress and anxiety may benefit from a home environment that signals safety and security. This can include setting aside time to do activities together, creating a peaceful bedroom, and minimizing exposure to media that may be causing stress.
Help your child build coping skills: Coping skills can be an effective way for children to manage stress and anxiety. Encourage your child to try activities such as deep breathing, exercise, or journaling. These activities can help your child feel more in control of their emotions and better equipped to handle stress.
Seek professional help if needed: A mental health professional can work with your child to develop coping strategies and address underlying issues.
It's important to remember that stress and anxiety are normal parts of life, and that children will inevitably experience them at some point. By recognizing the signs and taking steps to help your child manage their emotions, you can help them develop the resilience they need to navigate life's challenges.