It’s easy to think of stress as an issue that only affects adults, not children. Adults have a lot to stress out about – common causes include financial troubles, problems at work, parenting or caregiving, and conflicts with your spouse or family. While your child may not stress over the things you stress over, they still experience stress and are just as affected by stress as adults are. They are also more vulnerable to stress because they haven’t yet learned any coping mechanisms.
“Stress in kids is a really important topic to talk about,” said Lindsay Hardgrave Massena, LICSW, a clinical social worker in the General Pediatrics Department at Tufts Children's Hospital. “We see young patients dealing with stress every day.”
So, what are kids worrying about and how can parents help? Hardgrave Massena offers these suggestions:
Overscheduling or the pressure to “do it all”
It is more and more common for families to get caught up in playing every sport, learning every instrument and doing every extracurricular activity they can. For many kids, this can feel overwhelming.
How to help: Keep it simple! Avoid overscheduling, and stick to one or two activities that your child can focus on to avoid burnout.
Changes at home
Kids are sensitive to changes in their family situation — whether it’s divorce, a parent losing a job, moving, and more.
How to help: Talk to your child in age-appropriate terms about what is going on. While you don’t have to share every detail with them, don’t assume that they don’t notice when things around them are changing.
If your child’s attitude toward school or friends has changed, this could be a sign that they are being bullied. Remember that bullying takes on many forms and can include physical bullying, verbal teasing, and online harassment.
How to help: Talk about what’s going on at school. Keep open lines of communication with your child and monitor social media use.
Remember: not all stress is bad stress!
Successfully navigating stressful situations is an important part of child and adolescent development. Highlight the moments when your child deals with stress in an effective way so that they remember to use the same strategies again in the future.