Although most adults deal with stress on a daily basis, children of all ages are also affected by stress. Stress may be brought on by a traumatic event, new situations, challenges, or fear. In many cases, a child's stressful situation may only be temporary. However, the following signs may indicate that your child is stressed out constantly.
1. Complaints of Physical Ailments
A child who is under stress may develop physical symptoms. Often the complaints may be straightforward, such as tummy aches and headaches. In some cases, the physical complaints may be vaguer, with a child simply saying, "I don't feel well."
If your otherwise healthy child suddenly develops tummy troubles or aches and pains, these symptoms may be real and associated with ongoing stress. If the physical complaints seem to recur, talk them over with your child's pediatrician to rule out medical causes.
2. Sudden Regression
Some young children experiencing stress may show signs of regression. For instance, a toddler who is potty-trained may suddenly regress back to the diaper stage. The preschooler who has learned to get dressed and tie shoes may suddenly require assistance from Mom or Dad.
If your child suddenly begins to regress, assess the situation. If you suspect something is troubling your child, try to discover the source of his or her stress so that you can help your child cope and feel better. Most importantly, do not punish your child or make him or her feel ashamed if he or she is regressing back to earlier stages. Doing so may place further stress on your son or daughter.
3. Lack of Interest or Becoming Withdrawn
When in stressful situations or when feeling anxious, your child may show a lack of interest. Does your son or daughter seem uninterested in former favorite activities or toys?
A child who has always been outgoing and socially engaging suddenly becoming withdrawn may also be experiencing stress and tension.
Stress due to issues at school or new situations may be dealt with by being patient and talking things over with your child. Involving your child in physical activities may help ease stress and tension. Staying physically and mentally active is a good way to manage everyday stress.
If the stressful situation has complicated factors, such as the recent loss of a loved one, divorced parents, or serious illness in the family, your child may need professional help to deal with the stress.
4. Sleep Disturbances, Nightmares, or Fear of the Dark
Children experiencing stress may have trouble falling asleep or often awaken from sleep due to frightening dreams. If your child suddenly experiences nightmares or he or she becomes afraid of the dark, stress may be taking its toll. While an occasional bad dream is not unusual, recurring nightmares often indicate emotional turmoil.
A good way to handle this is through communication. Speak with your child to learn what is troubling him or her. It could be a fear of losing a parent, going to a new school, or being bullied by a classmate. Give your child reassurance, don't downplay his or her feelings, and avoid overly stimulating TV and activities before bedtime.
Some nightmares are caused by the physical stress of illness or even certain medications a child may be taking. Speak to your child's pediatrician about the possibility of side effects from medications. The doctor may recommend changing a prescription.
Do you suspect stress has become overwhelming for your child? If your child's anxiety is causing health concerns or trouble concentrating at school, schedule an appointment with a pediatrician. In severe cases, a child may need anti-anxiety medication or therapy.