Stress is an inevitable part of life and being able to deal with it is what makes us human. In some cases, it is avoidable and can be prevented, but some people find it difficult to cope with it. Not only adults, but children are also prone to stress and anxiety and dismissing the possibility of it can impact a child’s mind and their overall well-being. Excessive stress in children can lead to emotional and behavioral challenges, affecting their development, which is why early recognition and appropriate support are crucial for managing and mitigating the negative impact of stress on kids.
In an interaction with the OnlyMyHealth team, Dr Himani Narula, Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrician Director and Co-founder of Continua kids, New Delhi, helps understand the cause of stress in kids and the warning signs to note.
Causes Of Stress In Children
“Stress in young children can be caused by various factors like separation from parents, changes in routine, school pressures, family issues, or even personal insecurities,” says Dr Narula, adding, “While it’s a normal part of development, excessive or chronic stress can have negative effects.”
According to the United Nations Children's Fund, stress in children can be triggered when they experience something new or unexpected.
"For young children, tensions at home such as domestic abuse, separation of parents or the death of a loved one are common causes of stress. School is another common reason – making new friends or taking exams can make children feel overwhelmed," the UN Agency says.
"As children grow older, their sources of stress can increase as they experience bigger life changes, such as new groups of friends, more schoolwork and increased access to social media and wider news in the world. Many teens are stressed by social issues such as climate change and discrimination," it adds.
Dr Narula says, “It’s important for parents and caregivers to be attuned to signs of stress and offer appropriate support to help children navigate these challenges.”
Warning Signs Of Stress In Kids
Certain red flags associated with stress in children include:
- Changes in behaviour, such as increased irritability, mood swings, withdrawal from activities or friends
- Frequent tantrums
- Changes in eating habits
- Difficulty sleeping
- Complaining of physical symptoms (like headaches or stomach aches)
- Decreased interest in school
- A decline in academic performance
According to a study published in the Journal of Caring Sciences, more than half of the participants reported worry, fast heart beating, being afraid, chills and feeling sad as their sign of stress. Headache was reported in 46.6% of the total volunteers and tiredness was prevalent among 41.8%.
"In examining every stress symptom, there was a statistically significant correlation between some symptoms with age, grade and type of school," the study result read.
How To Provide Support To Children
Here's how you can approach and help a stressed child:
- Create a safe space for the child to express their feelings and concerns. Communicate actively and this involves listening too, empathetically without judgement.
- Let them know that their feelings are valid and normal. Avoid dismissingtheir worries.
- Consistent routines helps provide stability and predictability in a child's life. Maintain a balance between school, play, rest, and family time.
- Breathing exercises, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation can help them manage stress and anxiety.
- Regular exercise boosts mood and reduces stress. Engage in fun physical activities together.
- Avoid overwhelming the child with too many activities. Allow them time for rest and hobbies they enjoy.
- Ensure they have a balanced diet, enough sleep, and proper hydration. These factors greatly impact their stress levels.
- Demonstrate healthy ways to handle stress in your own life, setting an example for them to follow.
- Help them maintain friendships and engage in social interactions, which provide emotional support.
“If you notice persistent signs, it's a good idea to address them and consider seeking guidance from a developmental paediatrician or mental health professional,” says Dr Narula.