Stress In Children: Techniques for Coping and Relaxation


Stress, a common phenomenon in our fast-paced modern world, is not exclusive to adults; children too are susceptible to its effects, and being able to recognise and address stress in children is vital for their overall well-being. In this comprehensive guide, we’re going to take a look at some common signs of stress in children, the role of health insurance in managing stress-related issues, and provide practical advice on stress management for kids. Let’s take a look.

Recognising the Signs of Stress in Children

Stress in children can manifest in various ways, and is often different from adults. Common signs include:

Behavioural Changes

Observing changes in a child's behaviour is often the most noticeable sign of stress; this might include increased irritability, moodiness, or a noticeable decline in interest in activities they previously enjoyed. Some children might also become more withdrawn, choosing to isolate themselves, or display signs of regressive behaviour, such as bedwetting or clinging to parents more than usual.

Physical Symptoms

Stress can also manifest physically in children, with common signs including complaints of unexplained headaches or stomach aches. Changes in sleeping patterns, like difficulty falling asleep or frequent nightmares, and changes in eating habits (either eating too much or too little) are also indicators. These physical symptoms are often the body's response to the psychological stress the child is experiencing.

Academic and Social Changes

A drop in academic performance or changes in their interaction with peers can also be a sign of stress in a child; this might include a lack of concentration in school, a sudden disinterest in schoolwork, or difficulties in maintaining friendships, even with former close friends. Such changes can indicate that the child is dealing with stressors that are affecting their ability to focus and interact normally, and should be tackled head on to prevent regression in their ability to socialise and communicate healthily. 

Emotional Responses

Emotional responses such as excessive crying, anger outbursts, or fearfulness can be signs of stress in children, especially if these are inconsistent with their behaviour as toddlers. They might also express fears about situations they previously were comfortable with or show an unusual level of worry about everyday activities, hinting at a shift in their perception of the world around them.

What Causes Stress in Children?

Environmental Factors

Depressed girl at home

Children often experience stress due to environmental factors. This can include changes in their living situation, such as moving to a new home or school, or instability in their home environment. Exposure to family conflicts, like parental arguments or divorce, can also significantly contribute to stress. Additionally, witnessing or experiencing traumatic events, such as natural disasters or community violence, can also lead to stress in children.

Academic and Social Pressures

Academic challenges and pressures are common sources of stress for children, as the demands of schoolwork, exams, and the pressure to perform well academically can be overwhelming. Social pressures, including the need to fit in with peers, dealing with bullying, and navigating friendships, can also induce stress, particularly as the rise of social media and digital communication has added a new dimension to these social pressures.

Personal and Developmental Challenges

As children grow, they face various personal and developmental challenges that can cause stress: these include dealing with puberty and bodily changes, developing a sense of self-identity, and striving for independence. Children with learning difficulties, health issues, or special needs may face additional challenges that contribute to stress.

Family Dynamics and Expectations

Family dynamics and expectations can be a significant source of stress; high expectations from parents regarding behaviour, achievements, or responsibilities can lead to feelings of pressure and anxiety, and even siblings' relationships and dynamics (especially competitive dynamics) can also contribute to a stressful environment. Children in families experiencing financial difficulties may also sense the stress and worry of their parents, which can, in turn, affect them.

The Link Between Stress and Screen Time in Children

In today's digital age, screen time is an inevitable part of children's lives, but excessive screen time has been linked to increased stress and anxiety in children. Extended periods in front of screens can lead to overstimulation, disrupt sleep, and reduce the time spent on physical activities and face-to-face social interactions, which are essential for child development. If your child appears anxious, it's essential to establish healthy screen time habits, including setting limits, banning screens from certain rooms or occasions (such as during dinner time) and encouraging breaks.

The Role of Health Insurance in Managing Stress in Children

In the UK, where health services are predominantly covered by the NHS, the role of health insurance might seem less important. However, having health insurance for children can be a reassuring safety net, especially if you’re worried that your child’s stress could have an impact on their health.
Aside from offering private, swift medical treatment should your child fall ill, child health insurance also means better in-patient experiences for kids. Many insurers offer parental accommodation as part of their family plans, whereby one parent can stay with their child should the child need an overnight hospital stay. This can be incredibly reassuring for children who are already stressed and anxious, and equally reassuring for parents. 
It’s also worth noting that stress can often manifest in children following a health scare or a hospital stay; having a parent present in the future can prevent any future hospital visits from re-traumatising the child, or worsening stress in anxiety-prone kids. 

How to Help a Child with Stress and Anxiety

Once stress is identified in a child, the next step is figuring out how to help. Parents and caregivers play a pivotal role in this. Creating a supportive and understanding environment is key. Here are some strategies to consider:

Open Communication

First, encourage children to express their feelings. Let them know it’s okay to feel stressed or anxious and that you are there to listen without judgement.

Healthy Lifestyle

Emphasise the importance of children's hygiene, a balanced diet, and physical activity. These are not only essential for physical health but also play a significant role in mental well-being. Whether it’s a structured sport, a family bike ride, or a simple game of tag in the park, regular physical activity can help children manage stress.

Routine and Stability

Children thrive on routine as it provides a sense of security, so try to maintain regular schedules, especially during stressful times.

Relaxation Techniques

Sometimes, introducing children to simple stress management techniques can yield positive results, and get them into good habits early. This could include deep breathing exercises or mindfulness, and these practices can be incorporated into daily routines to help children learn to manage stress effectively on their own.

Encourage Play and Creative Expression

Play is a natural stress reliever for kids, so it’s always a good idea to encourage them to engage in activities they enjoy, be it sports, arts, or imaginative play.

Get Professional Support When Needed

Sometimes, despite the best efforts of parents and caregivers, professional help may be needed; if a child's stress is persistent and interferes with their daily life, seeking the guidance of a child psychologist or counsellor can be beneficial in finding effective treatment. With the help of a PMI, parents can get faster access to doctor’s appointments, counselling, behavioural specialists and other resources that can help their child flourish both mentally and physically. Please do note, however, that mental health support isn’t generally covered by basic private health insurance, but you may be able to add on certain options that include coverage for mental wellness. For more information, don’t hesitate to reach out to a member of our Usay Compare team for more information.

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