8 Warning Signs of Stress in Children

Children are generally viewed as happy and active. But just like adults, children can also suffer from stress, especially in a setting that requires a child to adapt or change.

Children may respond differently with stress, and may not have the words to express their emotions. Common signs of stress may be physical, emotional and behavioral changes, such as:

1. Changes in eating habits

Stress affects the insulin and cortisol levels of individuals. This may cause children to overeat and make unhealthy food choices, such as foods high in sugar, fat or both. On the other hand, some children become preoccupied when stressed to the point of losing their appetite or not feeling hungry at all.

If there are noticeable changes in your child’s eating patterns, speak with a doctor as early as possible to keep your child from having eating disorders.

2. Changes in sleeping patterns

Stress can also mess with a child’s sleeping patterns. Due to overthinking, anxiety and/or worry, your child may find it hard to sleep at night or stay asleep for enough hours. Stress can also lead to bedwetting, nightmares and other sleep disturbances.

3. Thumb sucking

Thumb sucking may be normal for toddlers (children age one to two), and they usually stop around three years old. However, it can also be a problem for school-aged children, especially when it becomes a coping mechanism for stress or anxiety. Thumb sucking may cause oral infection, thumb problems, difficulties with speech and misaligned teeth. If your child is struggling to stop thumb sucking, ask for help from a specialist.

4. Increased clinginess

Some children consider their parents, siblings or guardians as their “safety net.” This is why they become more clingy or needy and may experience difficulty separating from people when under stress.

5. Mood swings

Mood swings, such as acting up in normal situations, feeling irritable or crying for no reason, can also be a sign of stress, especially for younger children. If your child is having mood swings, don’t hesitate to ask if he/she is okay or not. This way, you can talk the issue out or at least give him/her comfort.

6. Being aggressive

Some children who don’t release stress properly get to the point of becoming physically aggressive or violent. If you notice alarming behavioral changes in your child, talk to a psychologist, psychiatrist or a pediatrician to address the issue immediately.

7. Isolation or withdrawal

Excessive stress may also cause children to isolate or separate themselves from other people, even their family. If your child has not left his/her room for days, ask a doctor for advice as soon as possible. Isolation or withdrawal must be addressed immediately as it may lead to dangerous thoughts such as harming oneself.

8. Physical aches and pains

When you are stressed or anxious, your brain makes a biological “fight-or-flight” response that sends some signals to your body that can help you flee potential harm. Then, you feel more alert. Your heart rate speeds up and your muscles start to become more tense. However, when a person experiences excessive stress, it may manifest to physical aches and pains, such as an upset stomach, shoulder pain, headache and diarrhea.

Speak with a doctor if your child is suffering from physical pain to get the treatment he/she needs.

Common Causes of Stress in Children

Aside from sudden traumatic events, children may also experience stress from:

  • Academic pressure
  • Body changes
  • Bullying
  • Conflict within the family
  • Moving to a new city or school
  • Neglect
  • Physical, verbal or emotional abuse
  • Pressure to be socially accepted
  • Scary movies or books

Final Thoughts

Stress can take a toll in a child’s development and wellbeing. If you notice any sign of stress in your child, talk to a specialist for proper management and treatment as soon as possible.

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Harvard Health Publishing