Stress in Children in Brief
Stress is a normal, biological response of our bodies whenever we face unprecedented or unwelcome challenges. This natural response is no different in children than in their parents, grandparents, or other people.
When children become stressed, their bodies release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline as part of a legal fight or flight response. Temporarily, these raised hormonal levels help kids concentrate and focus on the challenge. Their minds are more focused and alert. Their blood pressure may rise, and their muscles tense in preparation for a physical challenge.
While temporary stress can help children achieve a challenging task, such as winning a sports competition or passing an exam, long-term stress can be detrimental. Being on a high alert for too long can harm a child’s physical and mental health.
It is easy to have a nostalgic notion of childhood, thinking that children and young people live a carefree life. From an adult’s point of view, it may look like more youthful people have little to worry about. But everyone experiences and perceives stress differently. Stressors can be positive and negative – the biological response is the same. Too much stress can push children beyond their ability to cope.
Child Stress Signs & Symptoms
Childhood stress signs and symptoms vary widely between different ages and personalities. A child’s coping abilities can also hide them. Therefore, parents may struggle to recognize childhood stress easily. They may also miss the underlying problems that have caused their kids to feel stressed or anxious.
Generally speaking, stressed children and adolescents might display physical, mental, or emotional symptoms and signs. Parents can identify the signs but may need to rely on conversations with their kids to understand the symptoms.
Physical symptoms of childhood stress include:
- Acute or chronic bedwetting. Some children who had grown out of bedwetting may start again
- Trouble sleeping and nightmares
- Changes in eating patterns, including refusing to eat or withdrawing to overeat
- Gastrointestinal problems
Emotional and mental signs and symptoms include:
- Frustration and mood swings
- Extreme temper tantrums
- Stubbornness and aggression
- Withdrawal from others
- Anxiety displayed through sucking thumbs or biting nails
- Sudden fears, for example, of the dark
One of the most apparent signs parents of stressed children can look for is a marked change in behavior. Of course, children change their habits as they grow up. But when it comes to stress, different behavior can indicate a child is struggling to cope.
Causes of Stress in Kids
Positive or negative influences can cause stress in children. In most cases, a change of some kind is at least part of why children become stressed.
Moving house and changing schools is one of the most significant changes children face. Leaving a set group of friends and a known environment is a considerable challenge at any age. Seniors, for example, may develop stress when moving from independent to assisted living. Those stressors can be exacerbated by housing problems or the threat of homelessness in children and young people.
Difficulties with peer groups and friends can be another cause of stress. It is not uncommon for the constellations of friends to change during childhood. However, this is also an age when many people form some of their longest-lasting friendships.
Going through puberty means dealing with physical and emotional changes that are not always easy to navigate for children and adolescents. Many boys and girls struggle to accept the development of their bodies, at least initially. As a result, they may start thinking about themselves negatively.
Children and young people of any age will likely experience severe stress if their parents are separating or divorcing. Even if the split is amicable, children may struggle with high uncertainty. They may be unsure about where they will live or feel they must choose one parent over the other. Parents divorcing may also lead to economic uncertainty.
Treatment of Stress in Children
Parents are not always best placed to help their children through stressful situations despite their best efforts and intentions. Parents may be a source of stress if they put high demands on their children. If a child becomes stressed because of the parents’ impending divorce, mom and dad cannot always help.
In those situations, it is worth consulting with a mental health professional. Stress counseling can provide relief not only for children or young people but also for their parents. Counseling is a type of talk therapy highly customizable to the needs of the individual child.
However, in most cases, the counseling process follows these steps:
Assessment: The initial session or sessions will be devoted to finding the underlying causes of a child’s stress. Sometimes, they are obvious. On other occasions, kids need to develop their relationship with their counselor before opening up.
Treatment plan: Counseling sessions are tailored to the individual and their challenges. Stress counselors will develop and recommend a treatment plan based on their initial assessment.
Attending sessions: Children learn to recognize their stressors and address them more productively during counseling sessions. For example, if uncertainty is a stressor, counselors will work with their clients to identify routines and behaviors that can create certainty in their lives.
Review and adjustment: During treatment, counselors will regularly review whether their approach is working or needs to be adjusted to better suit their patients.
Effects of Stress in Children
Stressed children may not only display changes in behavior, but their stressed state of body and mind may leave them unable to cope with everyday demands.
Parents may notice their kids’ academic performance declining. Children may also refuse to attend activities they used to enjoy, attempting to retreat from their regular social lives. In the long term, becoming reclusive might damage friendships and make it harder to form relationships throughout adulthood.
But not all stress is harmful. Children may be able to use positive stress to help them achieve goals. Importantly, every child needs a break from excessive stress. Parents or counselors cannot prevent a child from becoming stressed. But they can help their kids cope better.
How does TrueCare™’s Stress Counseling Help Children?
TrueCare™ offers a highly flexible and adaptive approach to counseling that works well with the needs of children and young adults. With a nationwide network of counselors and other mental health care professionals, the platform makes it easy to access the support your children need.
There is no waitlist or any other delay before receiving support. In addition, children and their parents can choose the type of counseling that suits them best. Some may prefer the traditional approach to counseling by making appointments at a mental health professional’s office. Others might prefer inviting the counselor into their home for in-home counseling.
Online counseling has become a prevalent behavioral and mental health support form. Rather than meeting in person, online counseling sessions reduce the need to travel for both parties. Children can access support when and where they need it if they have an internet connection.
TrueCare™’s approach combines a high level of expertise and professionalism with empathy and tailored treatments.
FAQs on Stress in Kids
Children and young people may become stressed when they face changes. Those can be positive or negative changes, including moving house, changing schools, or performing in a school play.
In some cases, parents may be able to help their children by creating a calm, stable home environment. However, parents may also be the cause of their children’s stress. It happens when kids feel pressured by academic or other demands or if their parents are going through a separation. In those circumstances, it may be better to seek professional help.
Both in-person and online counseling can help stressed children. Your counselor may make a recommendation for one or the other. But you can also choose between those options based on logistics and your ability to fit counseling sessions into the family schedule.
How will counseling help children?
Behavioral health counseling helps children access better-coping strategies. Rather than acting out or isolating themselves, they learn to address their stressors and deal with them productively.
Not necessarily. Most children will feel the benefits of counseling quickly. Their stress levels will improve while they attend school and participate in other activities. With counseling available online and in different forms, there is no need to miss school.