How to identify signs of stress in children


The global pandemic sparked by the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 caught many people off guard. Life changed seemingly overnight, causing a host of unforeseen consequences that people were still confronting months later.

The pandemic has proven stressful for many people, and the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions notes that should not come as a surprise.

According to the CDC, fear and anxiety about a new disease and what could happen can be overwhelming. Public health actions, such as the social distancing measures, can increase anxiety and stress. That’s even true among children, millions of whom have been separated from their friends and forbidden from participating in extracurricular activities.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that children may not recognize that they are stressed. That makes it imperative that parents learn to recognize the warning signs that stress is affecting children. USNLM says increased stress can manifest itself physically and emotionally.

Physical symptoms

The physical symptoms of stress can mimic symptoms of other conditions, so parents should not jump to any conclusions before consulting their children’s pediatricians.

In addition, the CDC says not all children and teens respond to stress in the same way. However, there are some physical indicators that may be warning signs that a child is stressed.

Decreased appetite or other changes in eating habits

Unexplained headaches or body pain

New or recurrent bedwetting


Sleep disturbances

Upset stomach or vague stomach pain

The CDC also notes that children may confront stress by using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.

Behavioral symptoms

According to the CDC, children and teens react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. So the ways in which adults are responding to the pandemic could be affecting their children’s behavior. Some of the behavioral symptoms to look for include:

Excessive worry or sadness

An inability to relax

New or recurring fears, such as fear of the dark, fear of being alone and/or fear of strangers

Clinging behaviors, such as an unwillingness to let their parents out of sight

Anger, crying or whining

Inability to control emotions

Aggressive or stubborn behavior

Going back to behaviors present at a younger age

Avoidance of things enjoyed in the past, including family or school activities

Irritability or acting out, especially among teens

Difficulties with attention and concentration

Many people, including children, have had to deal with heightened stress levels during the pandemic. Parents who recognize signs of stress in their children should consult their kids’ pediatricians immediately.  (MC)  

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