Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Difficult situations, worries or uncertainty can cause stress and anxiety, which may affect both our body and mind. Parents might try to protect their children from much of life’s troubles, but kids and teens may still experience stress.
Situations that adults may more easily cope with—moving house, a death in the family or social pressure—might feel overwhelming for children. How well kids deal with this stress may rely on their family, support network, and habits. Fortunately, parents can identify when their child may be stressed and offer positive ways for them to cope.
Stress in our daily lives
Experiencing some level of stress in our day-to-day lives is common. A 2016 survey found that almost 60% of New Zealand adults reported feeling stressed at least once a week. Triggers included health issues, financial worry, and job security—all very adult matters.
While adults may view childhood as a carefree time, children and teens do still feel stress. Changes to their normal routine, schoolwork and peer pressure may all be stressful for kids. Children are often more perceptive than their parents may realize, as well. They may pick up on our adult worries—family disagreements, money troubles or even what’s happening in the news.
Stress is largely viewed negative, however, it isn’t always bad for us. In small amounts, stress can be a useful motivator for finishing tasks, working faster and may even provide a type of “immunity” against bigger stressful events. For children, this might mean finishing schoolwork, studying for exams, practicing an important skill or overcoming their fears.
How technology is shaping childhood stress
Children have always faced potentially stressful situations, but today’s youth must cope with added pressures from new technology. Social media, messaging apps, video games and television may all impact children’s levels of stress. Studies have shown that “information overload” is leaving many adults feeling anxious or stressed out. If the constant stream of data, news, and information is overwhelming for grown-ups, it may be more so for children.
Kids and teens may feel more pressure to engage with their friends through social media and messaging apps than adults do. They might experience FOMO, the “fear of missing out,” if they’re not on top of digital trends, playing the latest video games or keeping up with popular media. Adolescent anxiety could also be caused or heightened by online bullying by their peers.
Technology may also worsen childhood stress by interfering with our natural bodily processes. Blue light emitted from screens blocks the release of melatonin, the hormone that prepares the body for sleep. Screen use before bed (everything from watching TV to using a smartphone) could make it harder for children to get enough good quality sleep. This, in turn, may make coping with stressful situations more difficult.
How to spot stress in children
Parents might not always pick up on their child’s stress symptoms, or may misinterpret them when they do. Physical signs of stress, like headaches or sore muscles, might be put down to a growth spurt. Others, such as a child not eating well, could be dismissed as picky eating habits.
Children may have trouble communicating that they’re feeling stressed, and be more likely to show physical symptoms. Younger children suffering excessive stress may cry easily or become overly afraid in inappropriate settings. They might cling to a parent or teacher or complain of regular tummy aches. Parents might also notice their child is having trouble eating or sleeping, either getting too little or too much of either.
It can also be tough to recognize stress in teenagers, as signs could also signal normal teenage behavior. Acting irritable or moody, withdrawing from activities they once enjoyed or abandoning long-time friends might mean that an adolescent is experiencing significant stress. Parents should be mindful of these symptoms, but also know that they could be a normal part of growing up. (See also: 7 Effective Tips For Making Stress Disappear)
Helping kids cope with stress
Parents may not be able to shield their children from all of life’s worries, but they can take steps to help kids and teens learn to cope with stress.
Strategies for helping children deal with stress include:
- Encourage them to talk – Discussing problems and feelings could help ease some of the stress children feel. Offer a sympathetic ear, and listen without judgment. Try not to push kids or teens to talk if they aren’t ready, as this could cause them to pull away.
- Offer advice – If your child asks for help, offer suggestions for dealing with their problem. It may be appropriate to get other adults involved, such a teacher or coach. In some cases, a counselor or child psychologist may be able to help.
- Limit screen time – Scaling back technology use at home could be beneficial to your child or teen’s wellbeing. Banning screens at dinner time, before bed or in the morning could help them quiet their mind and relax.
- Encourage healthy habits – Coping with stress may be easier when our bodies are at their best. Exercising daily, eating healthy food and getting enough sleep could help your children feel their best, and may make dealing with tough situations a little easier.
- Be a good role model – Kids often take cues from the adults around them. If you don’t handle stress well, your children may be learning poor habits. Work on modeling healthy coping strategies when you’re feeling stressed to help your kids develop their own.
Happier, healthier kids
Stress is a normal part of our lives, and may even be useful in some situations. Learning healthy coping strategies could help kids and teens handle anxiety and stress when it happens. By building these skills now, children may be better prepared for more stressful situations when they reach adulthood.
About The Author:
Momentum Life is a New Zealand-based life insurance company, dedicated to providing easy to get, value for money insurance solutions.