How to Spot Stress in Your Child…and What to Do About It. 

Stress in children?

As the world changes and technology grows, there’s no shortage of stressors for children. From learning about major world events to online bullying, you can take your pick about what might impact your kids on a daily basis. Many kids have the ability to brush off problems and focus on the task ahead—but how do you know if your child is dealing well with major stress issues? 

Stress for children is shown in two major ways—Emotionally and/or physically. 

  • Emotional manifestations of stress in children routinely include new nightmares, dramatic mood changes, and general anxiety.
  • Physical manifestations include vomiting, headaches, abdominal pain, bedwetting (in potty-trained children), or chest pains. Some of these symptoms could be attributed to other issues, but the major difference and indicator that stress is to blame is when patterns start to arise for these symptoms around a certain stressor or trigger.

You first might say, “Hey, my child every day has abdominal pain,” and notice it when he talks about a math class or right before school. But then on the weekends or the summer you think “My kid’s perfect. I don’t have a problem with them. What’s going on?”

That is a big tell, when you know that your child is perfect, and you know they’re just a good kid. But at school they are always throwing up or having a headache and complaining. That is the number one indicator—you should say ‘You know what? Let me look at the physical possibility.’ But also I need to really be real and say, “Could this be a manifestation of stress?”

Tyler Sexton, MD, Pediatrician

How do I pinpoint my child’s stressor(s)?

You recognize the signs and symptoms…but how can you figure out exactly the cause? It can be as simple as spending a little “unplugged” quality time with them. By staying in tune with your children, conversation becomes more casual and it’s easier for them to open up with you. When your child needs help, it’s vital there’s an open dialogue for them to lean into. Taking time in your daily routine to spend quality time with your kids is key to building intentional conversations and appropriate coping mechanisms. Growing up is hard enough; kids need a support system to work through life lessons.

Remember, you have to walk the rocks to see the mountain views. It’s not A to Z, it’s A to B. And I think I encourage people to take that step one day at a time. And you’ll notice that every day you’ll turn your stumbling blocks into stepping stones. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You don’t have to be parent of the year. We’re going to screw up. We’re human.

Tyler Sexton, MD, Pediatrician

Spending time having conversations with your child doesn’t have to be the same pace you keep with your peers—it can be more casual and focused. Creating a habit takes time, but it’s worth it for the conversations and relationship you’re building. 

Small ways to create a safe space for your child to share:

  • Take evening walks with your kids (studies show it’s good for you too!)
  • Make game night a normal part of the schedule
  • Create chores that you do together, like cooking dinner or folding laundry
  • Read before bedtime
  • Find a fun game/trivia podcast to do together in the car (Reader’s Digest has a great list!)

Great conversation starters:

  • “What was your favorite class today?” 
  • “How’s your friend, ____, doing? I know they were feeling crummy last week!”
  • “What do you want to learn how to do?”
  • “Can you tell me your favorite things about your best friend?”
  • “What’s your best knock knock joke?”

So, you recognized it, identified its source…now what?

If you and your child are still struggling to cope with stress, you may just need a few new tools in your toolbox. You may need to change the circumstance that is a trigger, but oftentimes this is not possible, so seeing a family therapist or pediatric therapist can help. Just like adults, each person handles stress differently and needs the best solution for their disposition. Start the conversation with your child’s pediatrician. He or she can often point you in the right direction.

“You can’t build a house with just a hammer. You need tools. And so with good counseling, good physical exercise, those kind of things, it’s a tool. But when you add medication to the global multi-disciplinary approach with your child, you can see dramatic differences. It’s not a failure as a parent.”

Tyler Sexton, MD, Pediatrician

With an attentive ear and a desire to help, you’re already leaps and bounds ahead. And remember to be kind to yourself as you navigate stress with your children. The best place to start relieving stress in any situation is with yourself–your children will notice and follow suit.

Still needing help addressing stress in your children? Make an appointment with a Pediatrician and start on the road to a happier, healthier life for your child…and you!

Content inspired by Healthcare is Selfcare: The Podcast

Hear more from Dr. Sexton on Episode 3:

Do kids get stressed? How can you tell? What can you do to help them feel better? Find out from budding woodworker and experienced Pediatrician, Dr. Tyler Sexton, in episode 3 of Healthcare is Selfcare: The Podcast.

Prefer to read? Check out the episode transcript here.