Less Stress, More Learning: Knowing the signs of stress in kids

10 Sep 2019

The school year has begun and the new routine is in swing. While it’s a time for excitement, new friendships and new learning adventures, there’s a lot happening to kids emotionally during the start of the new school year. It’s a stressful time: faces have changed, homework and studying begins again, teachers expect more form kids as they grow and, in some cases, there’s a new school to navigate. To get the most out of school, parents can help their children feel healthy and strong ensuring the best conditions for learning and growing.

Young people are just as likely as adults to be at risk for mental health issues. Pressure about grades, bullying and an increased awareness of their safety due to school shootings all play a part in their sense of well-being. While kids are at risk, there are resources to help if a stress becomes an issue.

Stress: Know the Signs

Kids aren’t always great about telling parents what’s bothering them. Some kids don’t know how to articulate what’s causing them anxiety or even know what’s making them anxious. There are clues each parent or caregiver can look for to help identify when it’s appropriate to offer help:

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Consistent questions around the unknowns of the new school year
  • Drastic changes in personality
  • Talk of self-harm
  • Frequent complaints of stomach aches and headaches
  • An avoidance of talking about anything related to school
  • Changes in eating habits
  • More disorganized than usual and/or having trouble completing tasks
  • Increased generalized frustration and anger
  • Use of drugs and alcohol

Make the school year less stressful

Often times teachers and school administrators are often the first to notice a problem. Instead of being reactive when a problem arises, most school counselors and educators are proactive and meet with children one on one and in small groups to regularly ‘check-in.’ Get to know your school’s counselor and seek advice or intervention if you suspect your child is stressed. There are other school resources available, too. Principals, school nurse, teachers and school psychiatrist or psychologists can all be turned to if you are concerned about your child’s behavior.

At home, there’s more you can do:

Listen and talk. Listen for words kids often use to describe their emotions. They may talk about being angry, frustrated or worried about particular subjects or events at school. All of these are hints about their mental state. Keep listening and trying to engage them in conversations about their concerns. Try to avoid telling them ‘everything will be okay.’ Listen and try to empathize.

Watch for aggression. Physical aggression is a big indicator of stress. If your child begins hitting, biting or even just lashing out at other children or adults, it may be a sign they’re feeling overwhelmed. Help them understand their emotions by encouraging them to use words in the moment to describe how they feel.

Stick to a routine. A chaotic morning at home can set a child up for a stress-fueled day at school. Set a daily routine kids can depend on: a regular wake-up time, getting dressed, breakfast and out the door. Help them prepare the night before by making sure backpacks and assignments are packed and ready to go.