Stress is a response that our body creates to the demands placed on us and our ability to meet them. Some stress is normal and necessary for survival as it helps children develop the skills they need to cope with new situations and build resilience. It is a normal part of healthy development; however, when stress is strong or prolonged it exceeds our ability to cope and can cause short and long term problems for the child and family.
In preschoolers, separation from parents can cause stress. As children get older academics, juggling responsibilities, financial stress, physical stressors, and social pressures, among many others, create stress.
Stress may be intensified by more than just what’s happening in a child’s own life, for example, seeing or hearing issues going on at home or in the news. Kids who see disturbing images on TV or hear talk of natural disasters, war, and terrorism may worry about their own safety and that of the people they love. In addition, children may be stressed by traumatic events, family discord, or hearing about issues at home such as parental work stress, finances, health issues or death of a loved one, arguments, or divorce.
While it is not easy to recognize when kids are feeling stressed, behavioral changes and physical effects may be a good indicator. These can include but are not limited to:
- Mood swings, anger, irritability
- Behavioral changes such as acting out, aggression, being stubborn
- Worry, anxiety, fear
- Discipline or problems at school with behaviors and/or grades
- Changes in sleep patterns, nightmares, bedwetting
- Stomachaches, headaches, vague physical symptoms without illness
- Going back to behaviors present at a younger age, such as thumb sucking
- Becoming clingy
- Withdrawing from family, friends, or activities.
- Decreased concentration, forgetfulness, carelessness
- Appetite changes
The good news is that the damaging effects of toxic stress can be prevented, minimized, or reversed if addressed as early in life as possible. We are here to help and treatment is available. We can provide counseling, education, and support for both children and parents to understand and navigate stress, as well as medication management and other symptomatic treatment if needed. If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms or you have concerns, please call for an evaluation, we are here to help!
Megan Stukenholtz, ARNP, PMHNP-BC, FNP-BC
GCH Specialty Clinic
710 N 12th Street, Guthrie Center IA