Stress in School Age Children

Health Writer

As an adult, there are plenty of sources of stress. You may be worried about your job, finances or your relationship. Your car may have just broken down or the roof might leak. Everywhere you turn there are more responsibilities and obligations, some you can meet and some you worry about.

You might look at your children and see a care-free life. Someone cooks for them, does their laundry, drives them to their many activities and helps them with their schoolwork. Life is easy when you are young, isn't it? Not necessarily.

What Kids Worry About

The number one thing children between the ages of 8 and 17 worry about is doing well in school according to a survey completed by the American Psychological Association in 2009. About 44 percent of children/adolescents in the survey said getting good grades was a source of stress. Other sources of stress included:

  • Whether the family had enough money
  • Pressure to perform in extracurricular activities
  • Relationships with parents [1]

A previous survey found the same thing: that children are stressed about doing well in school. This survey, completed by Georgia Witkin and published in her book KidStress, showed this as the number one stressor. She also found that parents were not aware of how much stress school caused, thinking that being involved in too many activities was the main cause of stress in their children.

Signs of Stress

Younger children may not recognize stress for what it is and be less able to explain what they are feeling. According to the American Psychological Association [2] , stress in young children can appear in different ways:

  • Irritability and moodiness
  • Withdrawing from or refusing to participate in activities they previously enjoyed
  • Expressing worry
  • Complaining
  • Crying
  • Being fearful
  • Clinging to a parent or teacher
  • Changes in sleep patterns: sleeping too much or too little
  • Changes in eating: eating too much or not enough
  • Teens may be better able to explain what they are feeling but may withdraw from family, choosing instead to open up to friends. While this is a normal part of growing up, you also need to be aware if your teen withdraws too much, avoiding interaction with parents.

Both young children and teens may have physical signs of stress including headaches and stomachaches. They may also use different words, such as "worried," "confused," "annoyed" or €œangry" or put themselves down, such as "I am stupid." or "No one likes me."

Reducing Stress

Just as with adults, taking proper care of yourself is an important part of stress reduction. Make sure your children are eating right and getting enough sleep each night. Exercise is also important, make time for your children to get outside, in the fresh air, each day and spend at least 20 minutes each day exercising.

Other ways to help reduce stress:

Be available to talk. Let your child know you are there to listen, but don't force the conversation.

Do fun activities. Sometimes your children just need to let go and enjoy themselves. Schedule some activities you can do as a family as well as some time each week for each individual child - doing activities he or she enjoys.

Find solutions rather than placing blame. Instead of blaming the teacher for being unfair, come up with solutions to how to lower stress levels. Talk with your child's teacher about what is going on to find out her perspective and listen to suggestions on how to help your child lessen their worrying about school. For example, if you have advance notice of tests, you can better help your child prepare.

Talk about extracurricular activities. Even though most of the children in the surveys did not see extracurricular activities, such as sports, as being as stressful as academics, find out how your child feels. Are these activities interfering with their ability to do homework? Making them tired during the school day? Would cutting back on the activities lessen the stress?

Observe how your child interacts with other children. Does your child worry, not so much about academics, but how the other children will view him or her? Network with other parents and talk to your child's teacher to find out if social situations are causing stress.

Let your child know that everyone feels some level of stress. Talk about times you feel worried (without adding to their worries) or nervous and explain that it is normal to have some anxiety. Let them know that most people are nervous before a big test or presentation and that this feeling often motivates us to do well.