Stress is a part of life and growing up, and, in some cases, even a good thing in helping children to become resilient learners. However, excessive stress can be detrimental to a child’s development. Parents may not be aware of the mixed-emotions and anxiety that children face as they grow into young adults. For many, coming of age can be the hardest years for a number of reasons as discussed by Nord Anglia Education's John Nicholls in the Washington Post. Whether caused by exams, social pressures, or being an adolescent in general, here are some signs to know whether or not your child is feeling stressed and how to support him/her:
Is your child sleeping more or less than usual? Your child’s sleeping patterns can have a great impact on mood and brain function. John Nicholls, Nord Anglia Education’s Assistant Director of Professional Development, tells the Washington Post that teenage sleep deprivation is unavoidable due to physiological changes. Studies have shown that teenage circadian rhythms are two hours behind the average adult, meaning even if your child tries to achieve a full night’s sleep, their bodies are working against them. While it may be a challenge to help your child get to sleep, you can help by encouraging them to take in less caffeine. Tea, certain carbonated drinks, chocolate, coffee, and even protein bars all contain caffeine so it is best to inform your child what might be causing their sleeplessness. Encourage your child to read a book rather than using their mobile devices and screens before bed, which has also been proven to affect sleep quality. The National Health Service recommends that you get your child to sleep at a consistent hour every night.
Stress can manifest in many ways. Your child may not feel comfortable telling you directly that they feel stressed, depressed or anxious. Instead, their unease may come in the form of a stomach ache, headache or feelings of weakness or lethargy. It is important to check with your family physician whether or not these symptoms are more serious, but keep in mind that they could also be signs of stress. If your child checks out with a clean bill of health, try to get to the root of the problem to ask how they are feeling and whether or not they may be feeling unwell due to stress.
Struggling with confidence is not unusual for many young adults. Children may not even be aware that they have low self-esteem. Withdrawing from social situations, falling behind in academic performance, or changes in eating habits can all point to a lack of self-confidence. According to the UK National Health Service, low self-esteem begins at childhood. The media, teachers, friends and family send us messages about ourselves that are either positive or negative. Negative messages tend to stick and have a greater impact on a child. Indeed, self-esteem is not built overnight, and so it is important to teach your child the value of being resilient and the power of positive thinking. This does not mean that you should tell your child everything will be great, but it does mean talking to your child about ways to overcome adversity and strategies to cope with stress. Playing music, exercise, and connecting with others are all ways to alleviate stress.
Most importantly, open up the channel for discussion. Your child may be hesitant to tell you about what might be causing their stress, but it is important to show that you are listening even if they are not ready to talk. Remember that children often look to their parents to see how they deal with stress. It is important to set healthy examples of how to overcome stress in your life.