Signs of Excessive Stress or Anxiety in Kids
In today's hectic, high-pressure world, it can be easy for a child or teen to become overwhelmed. Read on for some of the signs of excessive stress or anxiety in kids.
When a child or teen comes home and talks about hating school, being mad at a friend, being stupid, take note. There's a good chance that what he is actually trying to say is that he is stressed or overwhelmed.
Pressures Exist Everywhere
Stress is increasingly common among teenagers. They are faced with a deluge of expectations, pressures, and choices every day of their lives. Gangs are prevalent, even in smaller communities. Drugs of all kinds are available pretty much everywhere, and many of their peers may be experimenting. Even pre-adolescents are frequently pressured to experiment with sexuality and might feel like “a loser” if they aren't “doing it” like kids on TV and in the movies. At school and in the community, they often witness or are victims of bullying, harassment, and violence.
Positive Stress Versus Negative Stress
Some stress is necessary in life. It motivates kids and teens to gear up for that big exam or play hard in the next game. This kind of stress can be viewed as motivation – holding a high bar for oneself to be productive, successful, or perform in a desired way.
Signs of Negative Stress
Negative stress, however, causes excessive worry, anxiety, and even physical illness. Parents or guardians can help their kids by watching for emotional or behavioral cues that their child is overly stressed. Some signs in include:
- Changes in behavior, like excessive moodiness or hostility towards other family members
- Complaining more than usual about school, sports, friends, or some other aspect of their lives
- Emotional outbursts – crying, yelling, destroying things
- Frequent stomach aches or headaches that are not due to an underlying physical condition
- Withdrawing from activities that they used to enjoy
- Expressing self-hatred or making disparaging comments about themselves (“I'm so ugly!” or “Everybody hates me!”)
- Sleeping too much, or having a difficult time sleeping
- Avoiding parents or guardians more than usual; isolating
- Excessive eating, or a drop in appetite
- Being unusually fearful
- More frequent crying than is typical for the child
- Ignoring or abandoning long-time friends
These behaviors might not be sure signs of excessive stress in a child's life, but parents or guardians should pay attention if they notice changes like these. Create a safe environment that invites the child to talk, and ask unobtrusive questions like, “You doing okay?” or “I've noticed some changes in you; what's up?”
If the behaviors continue, seek professional help from a school counselor or licensed mental health or family therapist.
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