The lives of children seem so blissful. Adults think life is all unicorns and rainbows for kids, but in fact, childhood has its own unique stressors and often adults miss the outwards signs that their child is under mounting stress.
For example, a seemingly fun trip to the mall to buy a Halloween costume is full of potential stressors for children: Malls are loud, crowded, busy, bright, and overstimulating. Fear of getting lost or negotiating the steps on an escalator can all produce a stress reaction in the body. Even the stress of making a choice between costumes or the texture of certain materials can stress children with sensory issues.
At school, children can be stressed about working in groups, a substitute teacher, or presenting in front of classmates. The list goes on and on.
So childhood stressors are very real. But because of their immaturity, they have not yet become aware of these stressful feelings nor have they learned skills for coping with stress.
Children don’t even have the language to explain how they're feeling to their parents. It’s our job to watch for it, and help our wee ones de-stress.
Here are some common signs you may be missing:
Hyperactivity: Many children react to a rush of adrenaline or cortisol by becoming hyper. They jump around and wiggle and squirm. Is your kid fidgety? It could be chronic stress-related. Kids actually acclimatize and normalize feeling wound up.
Irritability: Your child’s mood can turn from joyful to grumpy if they are under stress.
Low Frustration Tolerance: If they can’t tie their shoelaces easily and have a meltdown it may stress related. Kids seem to have little capacity for challenges when they are under stress and their bucket is full.
Tummy Aches: Our bodies are affected by stress. Tension headaches are less common in children than adults, but they occur. However, it seems stress prefers to find a home in kid’s tummies. If your child is complaining their stomach hurts and there are no other signs of illness, it’s likely stress.
School Refusal: Children should want to go to school. Kids want to see their friends. But, if something is stressing them there, they may want to avoid the stressor by staying home. Ask your child or their teacher if something is bothering them at school. A bully? An impending test? Fear of changing in the locker room for gym?
Changes in Sleeping Patterns: Stress can interfere with our sleep cycle and create good material for nightmares. Your child may also sleep more under stress. If there are any changes to their sleeping patterns, stress may be the culprit.
Changes to Eating Patterns: Some people eat more under stress and others lose their appetite. Keep an eye open for any changes in the eating habits of your child.
Soothing Behaviours: Children may discover some behaviours that feel soothing, like twirling hair, chewing their nails, bouncing a leg, cuddling a favourite stuffed animal or being more clingy in general. If you notice an increase in these types of behaviours, your child may be attempting to reduce their stress.
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