Stress is not just an issue for adults. Teens, adolescents, and younger children feel the daily rigors of the world, too, and often even more intensely than the adults around them because they have less life experience with how to adjust, not to mention hormones to contend with.
Academic worries, bullying, family financial concerns, and sometimes domestic violence are just a few of the reasons behind adolescent stress. Adults can help the young people in their lives by first learning to spot the signs, then teaching them healthy tools so that they can handle their stressors.
Sleeplessness, crying more than usual, changes in appetite, frequent illnesses, irritability, an ongoing bad mood, and avoiding responsibilities can all be signs of stress in children and teens.
While mental health professionals consider occasional and brief stress responses to be a common part of healthy development, prolonged episodes can lead to developmental and health-related issues.
Parents, teachers, and other adults should never dismiss a child who is voicing fears or emotions about situations in their lives. They may feel they are putting the child’s mind at ease by telling them there is no need to worry about a situation. In reality, the adult is blocking the child's opportunity to talk about what is frightening or worrying them, which discounts their valid emotions and may make them hesitate to talk about it in the future.
A rested mind and body helps both adults and children handle negative stressors they encounter during their day-to-day lives. Research shows that between 20 and 30% of school-age children have trouble falling and staying asleep.
Some studies found that an adaptive bedtime routine for young people sets the stage for healthy sleeping habits. Physical contact between a caretaker and child increases feelings of security and allows the child time to communicate any stress-causing thoughts or fears.
Stress can become an issue for children once they enter school and other social situations. They often compare themselves to their peers, causing them to feel less successful, attractive, or capable. This, in turn, leads to cycles of doubt, negative thinking, and stress.
Parents can teach their children to be more resilient to stress by showing them how to frame things in a positive way. Without discounting their concerns, teach them to focus on their successes, improvements, and positive traits.
Not only do stressors change as a child gets older, but so do the ways they respond to them. With the onset of adolescence, these two aspects of stress fall into flux, with hormonal changes playing an additional role.
Adolescents often create unique ways to deal with their emotions, some of which may seem odd to caregivers. Parents can help their children through the transition by keeping an open mind, listening carefully, encouraging and supporting their child’s interests, and monitoring them for signs of stress overload.
Encouraging behaviors that regulate emotions, physiology, and cognitions can lower stress levels. Self-soothing, often a sign of stress, is a repetitive behavior that a child may use to regulate their emotional state.
Some children withdraw to a quiet place, others may suck their fingers, rock, make unusual sounds, cover their ears, twirl their hair, or stare at their hands. When a parent observes this behavior, it is important to show the child unconditional love and reassurance and to be physically and emotionally present for them.
Numerous studies have found that time outdoors in green spaces lowers stress and improves depression and anxiety symptoms. Natural settings are restorative, meaning that they can renew personal adaptive resources so that people of all ages can better handle the demands of everyday life.
Studies show that the great outdoors mediates the negative effects of stress, like decreases in cognitive performance. Being in natural surroundings also reduces negative mood states and enhances positive emotions.
Redirecting a young person's attention to pleasurable activities can decrease the intensity of emotions during times of stress. Stress balls, deep breathing techniques, meditation, and exercise can effectively decrease stress levels in children and teens.
Listening to music, chatting with a trusted friend, and spending time with a pet are also effective methods. By providing access to distractors, parents allow the child opportunities to discover which activity works best for relieving their stress.
Stress can lead to unhealthy eating behaviors in children, adolescents, and teens. If their stressors are not addressed, they can develop eating disorders. Teach children from an early age to avoid turning to comfort food to relieve stress; this can become a vicious cycle because some foods worsen stress levels, while nutrient-rich choices help the body reduce stress responses.
Studies show that foods high in B-vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids improve mood and energy levels.
When a parent admits to their child that they, too, are feeling stress or anxiety about something, they are teaching healthy ways for their children to respond to stressors. It sends a message that everyone feels stress and that talking about stressors is a healthy way to deal with them.
When adults model negative or unhealthy coping skills, such as shaming, aggression, self-harm, or substance abuse, the child may adopt the same means of coping with stress.