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Signs of stress in kids and teens

Kids and teens who have experienced intense or severe adversity and toxic stress may also be sensitized to other stressors that follow. Their stress responses may be more easily activated, and they may have greater stress responses than peers who haven’t had similar experiences. When our kids may seem to be blowing things out of proportion and overreacting – it’s likely not “all in their head,” and they’re probably not just taking things too personally. Their responses could be because they’re biologically more sensitive to the experience of the stressors that they’re feeling.

When we’ve experienced ACEs, our bodies may continue to make more stress hormones than the average person. Throughout childhood and adolescence, that can look and feel like having trouble sleeping, difficulty focusing on tasks or paying attention and learning, or struggling with self-regulation.

There are other signs we can observe that may mean our child is experiencing stress and could use some extra support. The chart below lists some more ways that stress shows up in kids and teens.

AGE GROUP

POTENTIAL SIGNS OF STRESS

EARLY CHILDHOOD

  • Fear of being alone
  • Bad dreams
  • Speech difficulties
  • Loss of bladder/bowel control, constipation, bed-wetting
  • Change in appetite
  • Increased temper tantrums, whining, or clinging behaviors

AGES 6-12

  • Irritability, whining, aggressive behavior
  • Clinging, nightmares
  • Sleep/appetite disturbance
  • Physical symptoms (headaches, stomachaches)
  • Withdrawal from peers
  • Loss of interest
  • Competition for parents’ attention
  • Forgetfulness about chores and new information learned in school

TEENS

  • Physical symptoms (headaches, rashes, etc.)
  • Sleep/appetite disturbance
  • Agitation or decrease in energy, apathy
  • Ignoring health promotion behaviors
  • Isolating from peers and loved ones
  • Concerns about stigma and injustices
  • Avoiding/skipping school

If you are concerned about these or other signs of stress in your child or teen, talk to your family doctor or your child’s school counselor. There are lots of tools available to help you, but a trusted professional can give you the best guidance for your family’s situation.