Just like adults, children can also experience stress and anxiety. Causes of stress are based on the individual, which can include grade expectations, peer pressure, and family problems. Anxiety, on the other hand, causes a child to sweat, feel agitated or restless and tense, and have a rapid heartbeat. It is often the response to a stressful situation, genetics, your environment, or your brain chemistry.
Some stress in children can be positive, such as stress from starting a new activity or learning a new subject. However, stress can have adverse effects, leading to restlessness, aggressive behavior, recreational drug use, and even suicidal thoughts.
Sometimes, parents don’t even realize that their child is under stress or anxiety. However, it’s possible to learn about the signs and symptoms that indicate stress in your children.
To dispel these common ailments, we spoke with Dr. Stephen Jambunathan, a Senior Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist and the medical director and co-founder of The Mind Faculty, a private mental health clinic in Solaris Mont Kiara, Malaysia, about how parents can help with anxiety in children.
Below, are some signs and symptoms to look out for and what to do when your child is suffering.
Signs of Anxiety Symptoms in Children
Stress and anxiety in children can be caused by pressure to get good grades, a loss of a family member, or the impact of COVID-19. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 140,000 children in the U.S. have experienced the death of a parent, grandparent, or caregiver. This alone can lead to feelings of rest, changes in grades, loss of interest, problems with memory or concentration, and changes in behavior.
Additionally, the CDC states that 4.4 million American children aged 3-17 years have been diagnosed with anxiety while 59.3% of them are receiving treatment.
According to Dr. Stephen, children under stress may withdraw socially. They might stop talking to friends and family or stop socializing with friends. Nighttime trouble such as bedwetting and nightmares might also indicate stress. They might also 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.”
Children under stress may also develop 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 and Anxiety
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,” stated Dr. Stephen.
He added, “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.”
Additionally, anxiety is generally temporary and caused by a stressful situation. This can also lead to an anxiety disorder (anxiety that does not go away) if children do not learn how to manage these feelings. Chronic anxiety is classified as a generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, or separation anxiety.
How to Help Your Child Deal with Anxiety and Stress
Children are resilient. In general, they can cope and respond to stress, but you, as their parents, should provide some help and guidance. This is especially important with the added weight of COVID-19 on the younger generation.
Stress in children: What parents can do
Dr. Stephen advises that parents should 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.
Below, are some more things parents can do to support their stressed or anxious children.
- Recognize any changes in their behavior.
- Check in with your child and ask them how they are doing.
- Encourage them to enjoy hobbies such as painting or music to relieve from daily stressors.
- Focus on movement and encourage them to take Yoga or practice mediation.
- Try to ease up on your kids and don’t put certain pressures on them.
- Be careful of what TV programs or social media channels they are following.
- Be a role model and remain calm and focused under any of life’s pressures.
- Seek advice or professional help when the stress does not leave.
Stress in children: What teachers can do
Teachers play an incredible role 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 yell or 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.”
Additionally, according to him, teachers should treat each child as an individual with individual needs.
When to seek professional help for anxiety
If the symptoms of stress or anxiety cause your child to be depressed, withdrawn, angry, or have issues concentrating in school, they may need professional help. Dr. Stephen recommends talking to school counselors or child psychologists. You can also bring them to see a behavioral therapist or a family therapist. If your child is experiencing learning difficulties, they might need to see an educational/learning therapist.
If required, medication for attention and focus, anxiety, or depression might be prescribed by a medical professional. In addition, your child can benefit from a healthy diet and health supplements using Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) principles. You can also make your child herbal tea or calming herbal soup to calm the mind. Additionally, pearl powder and calming bath can do wonders to ease the mind.
With the proper tools, your child will learn how to cope with stress and anxiety. Parents should also make sure their child has a balanced day, which includes schooling, time for relaxation, fun activities, and mindfulness training. The American Psychological Association states that mindfulness training helps with attention and acceptance, thus, focusing on a state of calm and positive emotions.
Seeing your child stressed or anxious is not easy. Parents, however, need to understand and support their children by being aware of any changes in their moods and creating a home that is peaceful and nurturing. You want to be the one that they look up to and confide in. With love and support, your child will be able to overcome stress, anxiety, and life’s challenges with ease.
- Medline Plus. 2021. Anxiety. [Accessed on December 14, 2021]
- American Psychological Association. 2010. The kids aren’t all right. [Accessed on December 14, 2021]
- American Academy of Pediatrics. 2021. Mental Health During COVID-19: Signs Your Child May Need More Support. [Accessed on December 14, 2021]
- Medline Plus. 2021. Stress in childhood. [Accessed on December 14, 2021]
- American Psychological Association. 2019. Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress. [Accessed on December 14, 2021]
- Yale Medicine. 2019. Childhood Stress and Anxiety. [Accessed on December 14, 2021]
- CDC. 2021. Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health. [Accessed on December 14, 2021]