Stress Signs in Children: Are You Noticing Them?

Stress Signs in Children: Are You Noticing Them?Young and old, we all experience stress — but are you recognizing the the signs of stress in your child? While the majority of parents report that they have are aware when their children are stressed, a number of parents are the signs.

From June 1 to July 31, 2015 WebMD ran a survey, Stress in Children Consumer Survey, to get a general idea of what parents may think regarding this issue. The survey included 432 parents of children between the ages of 5 to 13.

In this survey parents were given the opportunity to rate their own stress levels. Nearly 1 in 5 of the parents rated their levels at the maximum of “10 out of 10”. At more than half, 57% rated their stress levels at 7 or higher. While these parents recognize their stress levels, 60% of the parents considered their children to not be experiencing much stress at all. These children were rated at 4 or below.

When speaking about this issue to the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Sandra Hassink, MD, she shared a view that we can all keep in mind. As a family, all of our stress increases together. Parents have many different situations to deal with on a daily basis, and we can recognize when we are stressed. Our children can pick up on this stress, and can heighten especially if it goes on unrecognized.

In this survey 72% children who were expressing negative behaviors over a year were linked to stress:
  • 43% of the parents stated their children were more argumentative.
  • 37% saw an increase in crying or whining.
  • 34% reported their children seeming to be anxious and worried.
  • During this year common physical symptoms were linked to stress:
  • 44% of children were complaining of headaches.
  • 44% experienced stomachaches.
  • 38% had trouble sleeping and nightmares.
  • 20% of the parents reported their children had changed their eating habits, including decreased appetites.
  • 20% of the children had undergone therapy or counseling.
Hassink points out that children do not talk about stress in the same terms that adults do. Children may be acting stress out in physical and behavioral issues, rather than speaking of the amount of stress they are under. Stress is common in children, whether parents understand it or do not.

As children get older, the stress they are feeling continues to grow. This survey revealed that high school students are experiencing stress that exceeds some adults. At 54%, college students reported feeling “overwhelming anxiety” within the last year. This was an increase from 48.1% in 2010.

“I think childhood today is a much more stressful event than it has been in the past,” Hassink says. “As a parent, I felt it. As a pediatrician, I feel it.” Hassink explained.

Sources of Stress


Half of the parents ranked school/homework, at 53%, and friends, at 51%, as being the main source of the stress they saw in their children. Though, a major source of stress and anxiety appears to be the home environment for children.
  • 27% of families were facing financial issues or loss of a job.
  • 19% dealt with a serious illness in the family, or with a friend.
  • 21% went through a death in the family, or friend
  • 9% separated or divorced.
  • 31% had experienced some sort of emotionally difficult situation.
Hassink explains that children definitely experience the stress they parents are feeling. A great way for children to recover is to spend time with them, but it is tough to relax when parents have a lot of their minds. As parents we need to understand that stress is affecting everyone, including our children.


Parents reported 38% of children were experiencing some form of bullying or teasing. Children that are bullied seem to have more issues at home. Children who were being bullied seemed to have more coping difficulties in family situations, like a serious illness or loss of a job. These children also exhibited physical issues such as a stomachaches and headaches. They were also more prone to arguing, lying and other negative behaviors. At 51%, the parents rated the bullied children’s stress level between an 8 or 10.

When asked about bullying, Stan Davis, an author of many books on bullying and a seasoned school counselor, tells us about building a support network for our children. A great way of doing this is through social activities, like an after school-club. we must keep in mind that standing up to a bully doesn’t always work. On a separate survey, the Youth Voice Research Project, Davis found that inclusion worked best for these children. The survey reached more than 13,000 youths, and encouragement by peers helped children move on in a positive manner.

Relieving Stress

The majority of parents explained that TV, movies and videos games were a way of their children coping with stress. Of the parents 65% stated their children watched tv, or movies.

While 50% of the parents said video games were played. Though, these solitary activities are not the healthiest way of coping with stress.

Other stress relievers that were expressed by the parent:
  • 58% of free playing
  • 55% played with friends
  • 44% would exercise or play sports
  • 41% of children would read
  • 39% took part in creative activities such as art and music
Without knowing it, you may be taking part in teaching your children how to deal with stress. When questioned about time spent with their children, the majority of parents spent time with their children almost everyday. Some of this time was reported when eating meals together, this was around 5.4 times per week. The “down time” spent together was on average of 4.3 hours a week. When we talk about down time, this refers to time that is spent together without electronics and tasks.

Quality time is what is important when dealing with stress. It is what helps children cope, grow and build positive relationships. The positive times that are spent with parents or family members is what works. These happy memories can be playing sports together, a board game, cooking something you enjoy, playing outdoors, camping, fishing or going to the beach. All of this time spent together is a chance to build happy memories that will give your children the strength to deal with stress and build a positive character.

If you think your child is showing signs of stress and it is affecting their health, feel free to give MacKoul Pediatrics us a call at 239-573-2001.

About author MacKoul Pediatrics

MacKoul Pediatrics is an amazing local pediatrics office in Cape Coral, FL where caring, compassionate doctors and nurses work with you to keep your children as healthy as possible. MacKoul cares for children from birth to college age, from Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Naples, and beyond.

February 24, 2017