Recent studies have shown that if parents provide coping skills for teens and children to handle their own low-stakes problems, that gives them the confidence to help solve their high-stakes setbacks.
Chronic stress can contribute to a long list of physical and mental health problems for children and teens alike.
Doctors have started to see how prolonged stress in children and teens has caused the likes of high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, and have even led to obesity and heart disease. What’s more, anxiety and depression have started becoming far more prevalent in our children and it all traces back to the level of stress they are experiencing every day.
While stress levels in children were already at an all time high because of high expectations with schooling, organized activities, sports performance and more - the COVID-19 pandemic has sen mental illness skyrocketing to an all-time high.
Consider the fact that (as of this writing) there have been reports of upwards of 200,000 children who have suffered a tragic loss because one or more of their caregivers have passed away due to Coronavirus.
Between the loss of caregivers, seeing the world come to a halt, loss in social skills, and incredibly stressful scenarios caused by at-home schooling, children and teens have been wildly overwhelmed by their environment. This is not necessarily the fault of the parents, doctors, or teachers - since everyone was trying their best to keep everyone safe. Now, however, parents, doctors and school teachers NEED to take ownership of giving children the best skills to deal with the resulting stress of our individual lives.
The most common stressors for children
Young children mainly suffer from tension at home and that can be the leading cause of their stress. Naturally, there are the stressors of hard times like divorce, family issues, or even losing a parent as was mentioned above. Though certain positive changes like, moving to a new house, the birth of a new sibling, or the addition of a step parent can contribute to the stress children are experiencing on a daily basis.
Young children are also feeling some serious stress in the school environment as well. Given the nature of the COVID pandemic, it might be hard for children to resume making friends, dealing with bullies or getting along with their teachers. Furthermore, going back to school also might result in children feeling anxious about tests, grades and meeting parents’ expectations to just continue on functioning normally in a society which, as of this moment, is still struggling to even define what “normal” is.
Sources of stress in adolescents and teens
While the stressors of children are still applicable to teens, that doesn’t mean their stressors are limited to what younger children feel. In fact, the stressors only expand into areas that become far more complex and less easy to spot.
Reports are showing that teens are finding significant stress around the many issues which are discussed in the news. These topics include - but are not limited to - gun violence and school shootings, climate change, sexual harassment, and the many complexities surrounding immigration into the country.
Adding to this fine line of stress is the fact that many teens worry about understanding where they stand in their social circles, how to navigate their initial steps into romance, and handling the peer pressure around drugs and alcohol.
How you can start recognizing the signs of stress
Stressors are going to show up in youth in many different kinds of ways:
- Is your child starting to show signs of irritability and anger? Kids can be in a bad mood - just like adults. The problem is sometimes children don’t know how to categorize how they feel, or even have the language to express how they feel. The difference with seriously Stressed-out children and teens is that it fundamentally alters your child's behavior on a daily basis. As such, a child and teen will be far more short-tempered or argumentative than what would be considered normal based on their overall behavior.
- Is your child having trouble sleeping? Children and teens often complain about being tired. Their bodies are developing and require far more sleep than adults. So, listen to them when they say they are tired. There is a difference, however, between being tired and having trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep. The inability to fall asleep and stay asleep is a MAJOR factor into your child’s mental health.
- Is your child procrastinating more than usual? If your child is usually very good about their responsibilities, and follows up on most of their tasks, that’s a great thing! If that same child, though, starts dropping the ball in a way that is not consistent with their regular behavior, then you might need to start understanding why they are doing so and how you can help cope with those responsibilities.
- How is your child eating? Are you noticing that your kid is eating too much or too little? Yes, kids eat a lot, and some kids are picky eaters. But there is a major difference between their normal patterns and noticing that they always have food in their hands, or never eat a morsel at dinner. Eating too much, or not enough, can both be reactions to stress.
- How often is your child getting sick? Stress often manifests itself in the form of physical symptoms. Many kids start feeling more headaches or stomach aches, and now that they are back in school, you might see more trips to the school nurse.
How you can help stress management for kids and teens
- Sleep, sleep and more sleep. Young children need between nine to twelve hours of sleep per night. Teens need at least eight to ten hours per night. Appropriate amounts of sleep help keep stress at bay. Do your best to limit screen use at night and don’t let them sleep with their phone in their bedroom – especially under their pillows.
- Get outside and do some exercise together! Exercise is a pillar for stress relief for people of all ages. In fact, the Department of Health recommends at least 60 minutes a day of activity for children ages 6 to 17. If it helps, get out and do it with them! It can’t hurt.
- Talk about the stress with your children. You may not be able to solve the issue, and you shouldn’t strive to solve every issue for your children. Your most important job is to help relay your life experiences through perspectives they have yet to consider.
- Organized activities are great but also make time for them to do nothing. Everyone loves activities in some capacity. We all have hobbies, sports we like, music we play or books we read. But, over scheduling is an extremely prevalent issue in children's lives today. Sometimes they just need to have time to do whatever they want as kids. If it is unstructured play time, quiet reading, or to literally do nothing but stare at the ceiling, that is actually productive. They just need time to be a kid, and benefit from the carefree lifestyle that comes with being a kid who has no true responsibilities. As a parent you need to find a healthy balance between their favorite activities and plain old kid-time.
- Learn and practice mindfulness. Studies are showing that kids and teens (heck, even adults) who practice mindfulness are far less susceptible to stressors, anxiety, depression and anxiety attacks.
What you can do to model mindful behavior for children
- Model healthy coping. Teens and children need healthy coping skills. What have you done in your life to help yourself in stressful situations? Even though it may be common sense to you, children may have no knowledge in that area.
- Be careful about what children are consuming in the media. The internet and instant access to information is truly a blessing to our society. But kids today are far more inundated with information than we ever were as children. What’s more is that they are being exposed to thoughts and ideas that are both radical, apathetic, and sometimes dangerous on an everyday basis. While you may be able to discern what is right by your moral standards, they have yet to develop that skill. What are they watching? What are they playing and what are they paying attention to online? Then talk to them about being able to parse the nonsense from the truth.
- Help reframe any closed mindset. Because children are under a lot of stress to meet expectations, many of them are starting to develop poor self-talk habits. When children use negative self-talk, though, don’t just disagree. Is there actual evidence which supports their assertion? If there is, how do you tackle that together? Or can you reframe their insecurities into areas of opportunity to grow? Taking the time to have a more open-mindset will do wonders for a kid’s stress level.