Recognising Stress in Your Child

Yes, junior can get stressed too. Here’s how you can recognise stress in your kids.

WORDS DR NICOLA DAVIES

 

Moving homes; financial problems in the family; parents who are fighting, separated or divorced; a traumatic experience; a new sibling; or bullying at school are among the life events that can affect junior and create stress. Children of this age can also become anxious about performing in a public arena such as concerts, music recitals, or sporting events. Performing well in tests or achieving good grades in school can be a source of stress for children, as can wetting the bed or fearing that they are a disappointment to their parents. There is even the possibility of social anxiety at this age, which could include worrying that they will not get along with their peers or being afraid that no one will want to be their friend. Dangers that occur in the real world such as fires, burglary, storms, or illness are further sources of stress to young children.

 

Spot the Signs of Stress

Just as there are many potential sources of stress in juniors, there are also many ways that stress can be seen.

 

 

Stress can have both a physical and a psychological

impact on a child. Sometimes the physical effects are more readily

apparent than the psychological effects and these can include

headaches, stomachaches, nausea, or chest pain.

 

 

The psychological signs of stress can include mood swings, aggression, difficulty concentrating, emotional outbursts, fatigue, and disrupted sleep patterns, nightmares, bedwetting, eating disorders, or hyperactivity:

 

Mood swings: Does junior seem to be happy one moment and then in the blink of an eye their mood changes and becomes tearful or aggressive? This could indicate that the child is having trouble dealing with stress and the associated emotions.

 

Difficulty concentrating: When children are faced with stress, they may find it challenging to concentrate on their academic work. The source of their anxiety may consume much of their waking thoughts, making focusing on the work at hand more difficult.

 

Increased aggression: This response to stress may be verbal or physical. Verbal aggression is displayed by screaming or calling others names. Physical aggression results in junior kicking, biting or hitting others. The aggression may also be more passive, resulting in junior having difficulty practising patience in circumstances when they need to wait for an event or a reward.

 

Emotional outbursts: Stress can cause junior to overreact to minor problems. This can be because the seemingly inconsequential occurrence can be just too much for the already stressed child to handle. The stress builds and, if there is no acknowledgement that there is stress or a strategy put in place for dealing with the stress, the smallest event can become the focal point of all that pent-up emotion. This can result in an outburst that seems to come from nowhere.

 

Hyperactivity: Emotional outbursts can sometimes appear in the form of hyperactivity, including temper tantrums, defiant behaviour, whining, and excessive amounts of arguing.

 

Nightmares: The subconscious mind is not swayed by the logic of the conscious mind. During the waking hours the mind may be able to reason, but at night the subconscious mind takes over and, using dreams, sorts through all the events and anxieties encountered during the day. Stress that has not been dealt with consciously needs to be dealt with through dreams and nightmares. The more anxiety there is, the more intense the nightmares as the subconscious mind attempts to conquer fears and face up to the challenges it has encountered.

 

Fatigue: Fatigue in stressed children can be caused by either depression or a disruption in sleep patterns. Fatigue will make a child feel lethargic and unable to muster the energy to undertake normal daily activities. They may also take more naps during the day.

 

Bedwetting: Feelings of stress or insecurity may distract junior from noticing the physical cues that would normally wake them to go to the toilet, resulting in bedwetting. It is important to be reassuring if this happens, as wetting the bed can itself become a stressor if junior is worried about how you will react.

 

Eating disorders: If junior eats more than usual, less than usual, or tends to ask for comforting foods such as cereals, milk, or mashed food it may be an indication of stress.

 

These symptoms of stress may spill over into their social and academic life, causing them to experience social isolation, withdrawal from activities they previously enjoyed, or a decrease in their academic performance.

 

 

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