Irritability and anger: Children often express their feelings through behavior. Stressed-out kids and teens may be short-tempered or confrontational.
Changes in behavior: A young child who typically has a calm temperament is suddenly acting out. A very active teen suddenly isolating in his bedroom. These are all sudden changes that can be a sign that stress levels are high.
Trouble sleeping: A child or teen might complain of feeling exhausted or sleeping more than usual. These are signs that the child or teen is experiencing sleep disruptions or simply getting less sleep than they require.
Neglecting responsibilities: If an adolescent suddenly drops the ball on responsibilities such as homework, chores, or more pleasurable activities such as events and outings, stress might be a factor.
Eating changes: Eating too much or too little can both be reactions to stress.
Getting sick more often: Stress can show up as physical symptoms. Children who feel increased stress often experience headaches or stomach aches and might make frequent trips to the school nurse’s office or pediatrician.
Sleep well. Sleep is essential for physical and emotional well-being. Experts recommend 9 to 12 hours of sleep a night for 6 to 12-year-old kids. Teens need 8 to 10 hours a night. Sleep needs to be a priority. Limit screen use at night and avoid keeping devices such as cellphone, tablet, and laptop in the bedroom.
Physical activity is an essential stress buster for people of all ages! The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 60 minutes a day of activity for children ages 6 to 17.
Talk it out. Talking about stressful situations with a trusted adult such as a parent, teacher, coach, or therapist can help kids and teens put things in perspective and problem solve.
Balance fun and quiet time. Just like adults, kids and teens need time to do what brings them joy. While some children can be balls of energy, others need more quiet time. Find a healthy balance.
Get outside. Spend time in nature! It is an effective way to relieve stress and improve overall well-being. Researchers have found that people who live in areas with more green space have less depression, anxiety and stress.
Write about it. Research has found that expressing yourself in writing can help reduce distress and improve your mood. Writing about positive feelings such as expressions of gratitude can ease symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Stay Flexible. Resilience involves maintaining a flexible attitude. Finding this balance in your life as you deal with stressful circumstances and traumatic events is key to building resilience.
Parents and other caregivers have an important role to play by role modeling and adopting their own healthy habits and helping children and teens find stress-managing strategies. Some ways parents can help:
Model healthy coping. Caregivers can talk with children about how they’ve dealt with their own stressful situations. Discussing appropriate personal problems and steps toward resolving and/or coping normalizes distress in life.
Let kids be problem-solvers. It’s natural to want to fix your child’s problems. Try not to solve every little problem with reasoning and logic. Instead, encourage them to process their feelings and work on coping skills to help manage the difficult time. Let your children try to solve their low-risk problems on their own. This will improve confidence!
Promote media literacy. Kids and teens spend a lot of time online, where they can run into questionable material, cyberbullying or other peer pressures. Parents can help by teaching their children good boundaries and ways to navigate digital pressures.
Combat negative thinking. “I’m terrible at science.” … “I hate the way I look.”… “I’ll never get the job!” Children and teens can easily fall into the habit of negative thinking. When children find themselves stuck on negative thoughts, don’t just refute the thought. Ask them to challenge the negative thought. What evidence do you have for that? If you had to make the argument for the opposite, what would that sound like? Learning to process these thoughts positively will help them develop resilience to stress.