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April is Stress Awareness Month

Identifying Signs of Stress in Your Children and Teens

Young people experience stress from a variety of sources. Some stress can be positive but too much stress is overwhelming. Tuning into emotional or behavioral cues is important in identifying potential problems.

Young people, like adults, experience stress. It can come from a variety of sources including:

  • Doing well in school;
  • Making and sustaining friendships;
  • Managing perceived expectations from their parents, teachers or coaches; or
  • Dealing with upheaval resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some stress can be positive in that it provides the energy to tackle a big test, presentation or sports event. Too much stress, however, can create unnecessary hardship and challenge. Adults can sometimes be unaware when their children or teens are experiencing overwhelming feelings of stress. Tuning into emotional or behavioral cues is important in identifying potential problems and working with your young person to provide guidance and support to successfully work through difficult times.

Here are some tips from the American Psychological Association (APA) on ways to recognize possible signs of stress:

  • Watch for negative changes in behavior: For children, stress can manifest itself through changes in behavior. Common changes can include acting irritable or moody, withdrawing from activities that used to give them pleasure, routinely expressing worries, complaining more than usual about school, crying, displaying surprising fearful reactions, clinging to a parent or teacher, sleeping too much or too little or eating too much or too little.
  • Understand that “feeling sick” may be caused by stress: If a child makes excessive trips to the school nurse or complains of frequent stomachaches or headaches (when they have been given a clean bill of health by their physician) or if these complaints increase in certain situations (e.g., before a big test) that child may be experiencing significant stress.
  • Be aware of how your child or teen interacts with others: Sometimes a child or teen may seem like his or her usual self at home but be acting out in unusual ways in other settings.
  • Listen and translate: Because children are often not familiar with the word stress and its meaning, they may express feelings of distress through other words such as “worried,” “confused,” “annoyed,” and “angry.” It is important for parents to listen for these words and statements and try to figure out why your child or teen is saying them.
  • Seek support: Psychologists have special training to help people identify problems and develop effective strategies to resolve overwhelming feelings of stress.

Parents, children and teens do not need to tackle overwhelming stress on their own. If a parent is concerned that his or her child or teen is experiencing significant symptoms of stress on a regular basis, including but not limited to those described above, it can be helpful to work with a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist.