Stress in Children and Teens
What is stress?
Stress is when life's demands seem too heavy. Children and teens have stress just as adults do. Stressful events can disrupt a child's normal routine.
How does it occur?
The stressful event may be:
- a change in the family, such as a move, divorce, major illness, death, or birth
- tornados or other natural disasters
- a terrorist attack
- rivalry between siblings
- parents who argue with each other often
- being in conflict with one or both parents
- reduced family finances
- making poor grades in school
- not getting along with a teacher or other school administrator
- homework, absences, and make-up work
- making new friends or arguments with current friends
- being bullied
- social events and concerns about invitations to social events
- participating in team sports, concerns about performance, and whether or not peers accept him or her
- peer pressure to shoplift, smoke cigarettes, or use drugs
Many stressful events in a short period of time can have a greater effect on the child. These may be everyday stressors for children. Your child may not be able to take a break from the stressful situation or the stressful relationship. This makes learning to deal with stress very important.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of stress may include:
- an increase in the number of visits to the healthcare provider's office or more school absences than usual
- change in appetite or sleep pattern
- pain such as headaches or stomachaches
- worsening of chronic illness
- depressed mood
- lowered self-esteem
- loss of interest in activities that your child used to enjoy
- decline in academic performance (grades)
What can I do to help my child?
- Try to identify the source of the stress. Then problem-solve together about how to best manage the stress.
- Let your child talk about stressful events or changes. The support and understanding that you provide can help your child manage stress.
- Let your child make simple decisions when appropriate. Because stress often makes a child feel powerless, you can help children by showing them that they have control over certain parts of life. For example, you might consider letting your child decide what to have for dinner or how to spend the day.
- Encourage your children to do as well as they can, but try not to pressure them or make them feel that you will be very disappointed if they don't do well. Help them to set goals they can achieve. Help them learn to say "no."
- Help them to balance their time and to allow time for exercise, rest, staying in touch with friends and going out and having fun.
- Encourage your child to do something active when they feel really stressed, such as go for a run or play an energetic game.
- Help your child earn to use relaxation techniques, such as mental imaging, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation.
- Make sure your child gets enough sleep.
- Make sure your child eats a healthy diet, without a lot of caffeine, such as colas or coffee.
- Make sure there is time for friends. Talking things over with others helps.
If you decide that your child's stress level is unmanageable, get professional help. A mental health therapist can teach your child additional coping skills. If you suspect that your child is suicidal, get professional help immediately. Thoughts of suicide are serious at any age and require prompt attention.
Written by Lesley Stabinsky Compton, PhD.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-06-14
Last reviewed: 2010-06-14
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes
available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical
evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.