With the pressures of performing in school and maintaining relationships with friends, kids can experience nearly grown-up levels of stress.
In fact, one in five children say they “worry a lot or a great deal about things in their lives,” according to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America Survey.
Help Your Kids Cope with Back-to-School Stress
Like adults, children need to learn to deal with stress before it leads to more serious health problems. Childhood stress is linked with issues ranging from anxiety and depression to obesity.
Yet it can be difficult to identify when a child is feeling stressed. The signs of childhood stress can vary depending on the child’s age, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
- Younger children may have frequent physical complaints, nightmares and behavioral problems such as temper tantrums, disobedience or hyperactivity. Grades may slip or they may refuse to go to school or participate in activities.
- Pre-teens and teens may have severe mood swings, threaten to run away or to harm themselves or others, or destroy property. Stress can also bring about experimentation with drugs and alcohol or sexual acting out.
How Parents Can Help
Healthy exercise and eating habits can significantly reduce stress. Overweight children are twice as likely to report worries about life than normal-weight children, the Stress in America Survey finds. Parents can also help by:
- Listening to kids. Show genuine interest when your child seems concerned. “I can see that you feel mad” is a much better conversation starter than “What happened?”
- Teaching coping skills. Encourage kids to take breaks from stressful situations by listening to music, going for a walk or talking with friends.
- Creating a stable home environment. Predictable rules with known consequences make kids feel loved and secure.
- Managing your own stress. Your kids feel sad when they see you constantly worrying.
If a child or teen regularly shows symptoms of stress, a consultation with a licensed health professional may be in order.
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