Adjusting to a new classroom and teacher, making new friends, starting a new sports season—the beginning of the school year is a stressful time for kids. Learn more about childhood stress and how you can set the stage for an anxiety-free school year.
Many parents of school-age children don’t believe their kids recognize or experience stress, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. But children of all ages face worries, and just like it can during adulthood, stress can take a toll on health if kids don’t develop healthy coping mechanisms.
Understanding Your Child’s Stressors
Children’s worries may seem inconsequential. But the pressures kids face—making good grades and new friends, performing well on the athletic field, and juggling homework and extracurricular activities—aren’t so different from the stressors adults face at work or in day-to-day activities. When talking with your kids, try not to dismiss their fears. Instead, discuss their worries and assure them that there is no such thing as perfection. Children should know that they may not always succeed—and that mistakes are an important part of learning and growing.
Model healthy ways to deal with stress, such as encouraging everyone to ride their bike or walk together after dinner. If finding time to prepare evening meals and complete homework is a consistent challenge for your family, take a look at your child’s activity schedule. His stress could stem from overscheduling. Finally, put a two-hour daily limit on screen time and monitor media usage. With computers and smartphones in easy reach, kids have access to potentially upsetting and age-inappropriate news items and other content, which may be especially stressful for young kids who fear their safety is at risk.
A Picture of Childhood Stress
Young school-age children may have difficulty expressing their emotions, while preteens may keep their feelings to themselves. To determine if kids are overwhelmed, anxious or stressed, parents often have to do a bit of detective work.
Keep in mind that children may not respond to stress in the same ways adults do. Watch for the following emotional and physical warning signs:
• A frequent desire to stay home from school or a lack of interest in sports or other after-school activities
• Aggressiveness or other behavioral problems
• A quest for perfection
• Changes in appetite
• Crying and/or clinginess
• Difficulty concentrating on schoolwork and other tasks
• Difficulty sleeping
• Frequent trips to the school nurse for stomach pain or headaches
• Panic attacks—symptoms may include chest pain, dizziness and shortness of breath
• Poor grades