Stress is an emotional reaction brought on by the demanding circumstances in day-to-day life. A child can experience stress for a variety of reasons, such as the beginning of a new school year, wanting to fit in, illness, divorce or separation anxiety. One life event that often has an impact on a child’s stress level is moving.
“It’s huge. Parents tend to think ‘Oh, they’ll adjust, just give them time,’” said Dr. Mercedes Briones, a licensed clinical psychologist who practices at Jackson Behavioral Health Hospital and works closely with children and adolescents. “The changes in friendship and surroundings can be highly stressful and can lead to deeper issues if not addressed properly.”
Dating, self-image and puberty among pre-teens and teenagers are predominate stress inducers. “Teens may compare themselves to each other in terms of popularity, physical development, and whether they date,” Dr. Briones said. “Such comparisons can be sources of distress, which can lead to emotional and self-esteem issues.”
There are positive and negative ways children deal with the added pressure of growing up. On the positive side, kids tend to look for ways to soothe themselves, like sucking their thumb or stroking their arm. They may also seek out affection, like wanting to be held or cuddled.
“It’s all about that sense of security, flesh-to-flesh connection and feeling of comfort,” Dr. Briones said. “Older children may release tension via sports, art and conversations.”
Children can also choose to deal with stress in a destructive manner, like throwing temper tantrums, isolating themselves or acting aggressively. In some severe cases, stress can make children sick. Common ailments include fatigue, headaches, stomach aches due to the tension in their muscles, and depression. Staying awake, not eating, nail biting and bed-wetting can also be coping mechanisms. (see Warning Signs for more)