How to recognize stress in children

Stress in children can show up as mood swings, acting out, changes in sleep patterns or bed-wetting. Some kids have physical reactions, including stomachaches and headaches.

Stress in children can show up as mood swings, acting out, changes in sleep patterns or bed-wetting. Some kids have physical reactions, including stomachaches and headaches. Others have trouble concentrating or completing schoolwork. Still others become withdrawn or spend a lot of time alone.

“Changes in routine such as school closure, and isolation from friends and family, in addition to boredom, frustration and disappointment, can take a toll on a child’s sense of well-being,” said Amber L. Pendleton, M.D., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group – Novak Center. “For adolescents, the loneliness can increase the risk of depression and anxiety.”

Signs of stress in babies and toddlers

Younger children may pick up new habits like thumb-sucking, hair-twirling or nose-picking. Some may start sliding on development milestones and skills.

Other signs:

  • Fussiness, crying more easily and being more difficult to console
  • Waking up more during the night
  • Feeding and digestive issues such as reflux, irregular bowel movements and new stomachache complaints
  • Separation anxiety
  • Hitting, biting and worse than usual tantrums
  • Themes about illness or death while playing

Signs of stress in teens and older children

Teens and older children may show signs of stress with symptoms such as mood changes that include more frequent irritability, feelings of hopelessness or rage and frequent conflicts with friends and family.

Some will step back from personal relationships. They may show less interest in texting or video chatting with friends. Some will lose interest in activities they had enjoyed.

Norton Children’s Medical Group

Pediatricians screen for depression and other mental illnesses and can refer you to a provider who specializes in mental illnesses.

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Other signs to watch for:

  • Sleep disruption
  • Disrupted eating patterns and overeating or undereating
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Less effort toward schoolwork
  • Reckless behavior
  • Thoughts or discussion about suicide

How to help a child with anxiety

Proper rest and good nutrition can boost coping skills. Make time for your kids each day. Whether they need to talk or just be in the same room with you, make yourself available. Don’t try to make them talk, even if you know what they’re worried about. Sometimes kids just feel better when you spend time with them on fun activities.

Get down on the floor and play with the kids or just talk to them about their day. Expressing interest shows your kids that they’re important to you.

Help your child cope with stress by talking about the pandemic and what they’re hearing about it.

When kids can’t or won’t discuss what’s bothering them, try talking about your own concerns and stresses. This shows that you’re willing to tackle tough topics and are available to talk with when they’re ready.

If it’s an emergency

If a child is in a dangerous or life-threatening situation, seek immediate medical attention at an emergency room.

You also can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255) or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) treatment referral National Helpline at (800) 662-HELP (4357).

Norton Children's Medical Group

Norton Children's Medical Group – Novak Center

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Norton Children's Medical Group – Germantown

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Norton Children’s Medical Group – Elizabethtown

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Norton Children’s Medical Group

Norton Children’s Medical Group, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, offers pediatric primary care at more than 20 locations throughout Louisville and Southern Indiana.
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