Stress in Kids: Signs & Solutions to Help Calm the Chaos
It’s a known fact that stress can cause physical pain and mental impairment. Most any adult can relate to symptoms of headaches, insomnia, changes in appetite – all caused by stress.
Your kid will likely be irritable, cry more, withdraw from activities, express uncertainty, or have negative self-talk. He or she might complain about headaches and stomachaches or have changes in sleep and appetite. Kids under stress also have problems getting ready for school and may even refuse to go. A study published by NCBI found that Anxiety is a major risk factor for problematic school absenteeism.
Imagine the impact that stress can have on a child.
If your child has been diagnosed with a chronic illness, they are also having to adjust to a “new normal.” Their daily routine has been shifted to allow for doctors appointments and/or treatments. They can sense emotional distress from their parents and loved ones, which can also affect them. Some children experience social anxiety as a result of their appearance from these treatments or just not feeling like they fit in. It’s important that you look for indicators and take preventative measures to help your child stay at ease. Here are a few simple preventative approaches to managing stress in kids:
Recognizing the Symptoms of Stress in Kids
Detecting stress in kids early can help a child cope effectively, and prevent further stress-related health complications like adrenal fatigue, high blood pressure, and depression. Some children, especially little ones, may not be able to communicate their stress in words. Healthy siblings of a sick child may feel guilty about letting you know that they are struggling too. Stress can look different from one child to the next and can affect them in different ways.
In order to appropriately combat stress, it is helpful for parents and guardians to understand what stress in kids may look like.
Physical Signs of Stress in Kids
- Physical fatigue/lack of energy
- Aches and pains
- Chest pain
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Frequent colds or infections
- Teeth grinding
Behavioral Signs of Stress in Kids
- Changes in appetite (over or under-eating)
- Tobacco/drug or alcohol use
- Acting out
- Nervousness (nailbiting/thumbsucking/fidgeting)
- Social withdrawal
- Trouble with homework or participating in class
Other Signs of Stress in Kids
- Mood swings
- Low self-esteem/self-confidence
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Lack of motivation
- Difficulty relaxing
- Difficulty concentrating
3 Practical Ways to Keep Chaos at Bay
Plan for procedures
Stress will be easier to cope with when planning is involved and procedures are anticipated. Doctors appointments, tests, and procedures can cause physical and emotional stress. Some children may need days to prepare, and others may experience too much anxiety. Keeping open communication with your child will help you figure out what your child needs.
Some things will need to be done regardless of the situation, but be prepared to be flexible. Understanding what tasks are critical (ie. medications and doctors visits), and which are flexible will help a child cope and feel a sense of autonomy and self-confidence.
Support a Child’s Friendships and Activities with Peers
Illness, doctors appointments, and treatments often interfere with a child’s routines and activities. For children and teens with chronic health conditions, this can lead to fewer friendships and less social activity. Keeping kids involved with their peers and making extra efforts to maintain and make new friendships can help gives kids the support systems they need to better cope with their illness.
7 Stress Reduction Techniques for Kids and Parents:
1. Deep breathing
2. Muscle relaxation (tensing and relaxing muscles in the body)
3. Mindfulness Meditation
5. Talking with a trusted support system
6. Making time for social activities
7. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise
When a child has been diagnosed with a chronic illness or disability, recognizing and finding healthy ways to deal with stress in kids is key. Coping with stress as a parent is also an ongoing process. Above all, do not be afraid to reach out for support when you need it. The African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child,” is certainly true when your child is impacted by a chronic condition.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE FOR FAMILIES IMPACTED BY CHILDHOOD CHRONIC ILLNESS
What are some stress reduction tips that have helped your family? We’d love to hear from you. Please share your experience with us in the comments.
CoachArt offers free art and athletic lessons to chronically ill children and their siblings between the ages of 5-18 in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and San Diego. If your child has been diagnosed with a chronic condition, we invite you to fill out a student eligibility form or get in touch to learn if CoachArt is right for your child.
Ways to Help
Do you have an artistic or athletic skill you would like to share with a child impacted by chronic illness? Become a CoachArt Volunteer.