Signs of Stress in Children
Children experience stress in a variety of ways. Some may just be overtired and seem to cope very well. Others may have mood swings, acting out behaviors, changes in sleep patterns, or may revert to behaviours of a younger age (thumb sucking, bedwetting, clinging, etc.).
There are many different signs of stress, but these are also signs of other conditions and illnesses. Any sudden change in behaviour in children, that is not related to developmental stages, is cause for concern. A cluster of these signs or the sudden appearance of one or two that persist for a long period warrant further observation. In any case, when stress interferes with a child's life so that the child feels overwhelmed, depressed, or physically ill, it may be time to see a professional (the child's doctor, a school counselor, or a therapist).
Signs of Stress: Up to 5 Years OldYoung children can't often tell you that they are feeling stressed. Their behaviour, however, can revel their level of stress.
Infants, toddlers, and preschool children demonstrate stress by clinging to a parent, crying more than usual, having temper tantrums, displaying regressive behaviours (thumb sucking, bedwetting, fear of the dark, etc.), rocking, biting, and having toilet accidents. Crying, temper tantrums, and wakefulness at night can also be a normal response to a developmental stage. Children often can be frustrated when learning to stand, talk, or master other developmental learning. They will cry more for a few days and then return to their usual personalities. If this persists, it may be a sign of stress.
Other signs of stress at this age are anger, accident proneness, and even a high sensitivity to sudden or loud noises. This startle response is a clear sign of stress even in an infant or toddler.
Signs of Stress: 6 to 11 Years OldChildren of school age are more able to tell you they are feeling stress. However, whether they verbalise it or not, they can also manifest physical complaints and uncharacteristic behaviours.
School children who are stressed often have stomach aches, headaches, respiratory tract illness, sleep problems, no appetite or wanting to eat all the time, experience slow recovery from illness, stutter, need to go to the bathroom a lot, or grind their teeth, especially in their sleep.
They also can pick their noses a lot, bite their nails, and have nightmares. Children may also revert to infantile behaviours such as bedwetting, tantrums, or baby talk.
Stressed children may also lie, bully, defy authority, express anger, be aggressive, be irritable, engage in disruptive behaviour, hit other children, refuse to go to school, and start bringing home poor school results. They can also have panic attacks, withdraw, whine, be depressed, lose interest in usual activities, seemed worried, can't concentrate, cry, appear to be lazy, be accident prone, and can drop friends.
Signs of Stress: 12 to 18 Years OldPre-adolescents and adolescents, though the most able to communicate of all of the ages of childhood, often are the least communicative. They also may deny that anything is affecting them and refuse to talk.
When stressed, teenagers may behave in many of the ways that elementary school age children behave when they are dealing with stress. Their regressive behaviours, however, won't be bedwetting and baby talk. This may manifest as not being willing to take on more adult responsibilities and wanting to play more. They may not want to go away to university, and may express this.
Stressed teenagers also may engage in dangerous behaviours that may put their health or lives at risk. They also may have suicidal tendencies.
Children may not be able to tell us that they are stressed, but their behaviours and physical symptoms can give us clues.