How You Can Handle Stress in Children According to a Psychiatrist

We talked to a psychiatrist to help you recognise stress in children and how you can help them live to the fullest.

A happy family walking in a park together

Children can experience stress, just like adults. Causes of stress are varied, including expectations, peer pressure, and family problems.

Some stress in children can be positive, such as stress from starting a new activity or learning a new subject. However, too much of it can have adverse effects on a child. 

Sometimes, parents don’t know that their child is under stress. However, it’s possible to learn about the signs and symptoms that indicate stress in your children.

All Things Health team talk to Dr Stephen Jambunathan, a Senior Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist. He is the medical director and co-founder of The Mind Faculty, a private mental health clinic in Solaris Mont Kiara.

Watch the video below to learn which signs and symptoms to look out for and what to do when your child is stressed:

Signs of Stress in Children

The signs and symptoms of stress in children are varied, depending on their age. A sure sign of stress is a change in their behaviour. 

According to Dr Stephen, children under stress may withdraw socially. Perhaps they might stop talking to friends and family or stop mixing with other people. Nighttime trouble such as bedwetting and nightmares also indicate stress. They might also seem to lose their appetite or refuse to eat.

Dr Stephen also explains that trouble in school, such as poor performance – marked by deteriorating grades – or refusal to go to school, are “telltale signs of stress.” 

Moreover, children under stress may develop some unhealthy coping mechanisms. Dr Stephen adds, “you should look out if your child is acting out, avoiding something or someone, withdrawing into themselves, or in extreme cases, bullying their peer.” 

Common Causes of Childhood Stress

To help childhood stress, we must first uncover and understand the root cause of it. 

“There are three leading causes of stress in children. The first is expectations, both from themselves and their parents. Maybe they have low self-esteem or a negative perception of themselves. Perhaps their parents expect them to be top performers in school or force them to do things they don’t like,” notes Dr Stephen. 

He adds, “The second is peer pressure – possibly they feel the need to conform or do stuff that their peers are doing.

While the third is family, which can range from a strained relationship between parents to broken families and abuse.” 

Helping Your Child Cope

Children are resilient. They can cope and respond to stress healthily, but you, as their parents, should provide some help and guidance.

What parents can do

A young asian family talking in the living room
Children need to be able to communicate openly with their parents. Let your child know they can talk to you any time.

Dr Stephen advises parents to talk to their children. Don’t just give them advice about what to do or how to cope. You must talk to them gently and ask them what they feel and what they are going through.

“You want your child to communicate openly and safely with you. Let them express themselves. This does not happen overnight. It takes time. So, you have to be patient. You must let your child know that they can talk to you and confide in you at any time,” he says. In addition, Dr Stephen adds that parents also need to show their children understanding and support. 

What teachers can do

A smiling teacher giving her young student a high-five in a classroom
Teachers should observe children and observe if their pupils are experiencing learning difficulties.

Teachers have a significant role to play to help children with stress, too. A misbehaving or difficult child might be acting up because they are stressed. The first reaction should not be to punish the child.

Dr Stephen shares, “Teachers should observe the child and determine if they are experiencing any learning disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or dyslexia. Don’t dismiss the child as just being naughty.” As an addition, according to him, teachers should treat each child as an individual with individual needs.

When to seek professional help

If the symptoms are worsening and they seem to interfere with a child’s daily life, he or she may need professional help. Dr Stephen recommends getting them to talk to school counsellors or child psychologists. You can also bring them to see behavioural therapists.

Besides that, another option is to see a family therapist. If your child is experiencing learning difficulties, they might need to see an educational/learning therapist. 

If required, medicine for attention and focus, anxiety or depression can be prescribed by the proper medical professionals. In addition, your child can benefit from health supplements. You can also make your child herbal soup to help calm the mind. 

With proper guidance, your child can learn healthy ways to cope with stress and overcome it. Parents should also schedule their child’s daily activities, including a good mix of study, relaxation, fun times, and mindfulness training. American Psychological Association states that mindfulness training reduces stress and amygdala reactivity to fearful faces in middle-school children. 

Parents need to understand and support their children throughout their formative years. Be the one they look up to and confide in. Be their best friend. With abundant care and support, the child can overcome stress and challenges.

References

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. 2020. Helping Children Handle Stress[Accessed 2 June 2021] 
  2. American Psychological Association. 2019. Identifying signs of stress in your children and teens. [Accessed 2 June 2021] 
  3. American Psychological Association. 2019. Mindfulness training reduces stress and amygdala reactivity to fearful faces in middle-school children. [Accessed 2 June 2021] 
  4. Frontiers in Psychological. 2020. Children Coping, Contextual Risk and Their Interplay During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Spanish Case. [Accessed 2 June 2021] 
  5. International Journal of Applied Psychology. 2020. Children and Coping During COVID-19: A Scoping Review of Bio-Psycho-Social Factors[Accessed 2 June 2021] 
  6. US National Library of Medicine. n.d. Stress in Childhood. [Accessed 2 June 2021] 

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