Is your child stressed? Here's how you can tell

Is your child stressed? Here's how you can tell

Stress is fairly common in school children. Read this to know if your child is going through an unhealthy amount of anxiety, plus what you can do about it.

Stephen did not go to school today. He woke up feeling fine. However as he was getting ready to go to school, he was dragging his feet, looking a bit reluctant. An hour before the school time, he developed a stomachache. Mrs. Chen took a family care leave and rushed to their doctor, Dr Loke. However, Dr. Loke could not find any cause for it.

This was not the first time Stephen developed an ‘ache’ right at the time of going to school. In fact, he had missed school 3 times in the last 4 months. His parents were worried. The only good thing was that he was eating well. He even looked a bit happier on weekends, when he did not have to go to school.

Unknown to Mrs. Chen, and to the suspicion of Dr Loke, Stephen had developed an anxiety of going to school.

Is anxiety common at this age?

Childhood anxiety is on the rise and this is not a good sign. Research shows that children who have undergone a stressful childhood often end up having a tough adulthood1. To understand this anxiety and the stress associated with it, it is important to understand the factors that can cause kids like Stephen to be stressed at this tender age.

These are the common reasons why your child might be stressed:

1. Performance related stress

Some students tend to be quite competitive and achievements at school matter a lot especially if the child or the parents have high aspirations. Often, the child may have a difficulty in understanding a subject and may be too shy to seek help. If he is not getting any external help, such as tutoring, he might end up trailing behind his friends at school.

When a child feels that he is lagging behind, he may end up feeling stressed about it.

2. Fear of feedback

Children seek validation from others, especially their parents. If the parents have high expectations that the child may not be able to fulfill, the child may experience some stress. This may not be that harmful if it is for a short period. In fact, a little bit of pressure has shown to boost performance in kids. However, sustained, toxic stress can lead to a lot of issues later on.

3. Vicarious pressures

Parents try to make sure that the pressures they face do not transcend to their children. However, there might be some pressures, especially related to finances, that are difficult to hide from the children. Kids often end up getting a vicarious stress – they get stressed because their parents are stressed about something the child has no control over.

Spotting markers of stress

Having understood some important causes of stress, it is equally important to now understand how to spot stress in children. These are the main changes to look out for, according to the American Psychological Association2.

1. Changes in behavior

If your kid is exhibiting negative behavioral traits, it might indicate that he is under stress. Be particularly mindful if he displays anger, suddenly loses interest in activities that he used to relish, starts sleeping too less or too much, or is seen clinging to you or the teacher.

2. Feels unwell often

If your kid feels unwell quite often, particularly near the time to go to the school, he might be going through more than the usual amount of stress. Consult a doctor to rule out any physical cause.

3. Habitual discomfort

Your kid might be very comfortable at home, but it is equally important that he is able to adapt to the environments outside home – school, gymnasium, playgrounds, to name a few. Find out if he is equally comfortable everywhere.

Of course, children are going to be anxious about going to certain places, like say, swimming classes, if they didn’t do so well in the previous session. However, if this persists even after a long time, an active intervention may be required.

How to help your child if he is stressed

Catching the warning signs early on can help prevent the impact of stress and anxiety on your child’s performance in the long run, not to mention the changes in personality that come with it. Here are a few things you can do to help your child deal with stress

  1. Don’t be too hard on him. It may be a hard pill to swallow, but see if your ambition is what’s inducing anxiety in your child.
  2. Have frequent conversations about things he is afraid of, in order to allay his anxiety. Many times, this will enable him to see that his fears are conquerable, and there is no need to be anxious anymore.
  3. Avoid discussing your stress in front of the children till they are old enough to share it. Even then, be mindful to point out that there is a plan.
  4. Don’t wait till it is too late to bring in an expert.

This article was originally published on theAsianparent Singapore.


1Toxic stress, key concepts. Center of developing child, Harvard University.
2Identifying Signs of Stress in Your Children and Teens, American Psychological Association.

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Anay Bhalerao

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