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Stress in children and young people - information and advice for parents and carers

Image of a teenage girl looking Stressed out

Why are children and young people effected by stress?

Children and young people today are facing many pressures from many different sources.

They are experiencing stress at school (homework, fitting in, bullying, tests), stress at home (parental separation, poverty, divorce, family expectations), and worldwide media stress - things they hear and see on the news, via social media and online which with Covid and the Ukraine war, it has been a particularly worrying and stressful time for many young people.

Spotting the signs of stress in children and young people

Signs of stress in children:

Children can experience stress early on in their lives. While young people may be able to recognise stress and ask for help, primary school-aged children may have less awareness of stressful feelings, so they may find it difficult to communicate when they are feeling stressed.

It is harder for parents or carers to notice the signs of stress in young children.

childhood stress can appear as different physical and emotional symptoms.

Some indications that your child could be feeling stressed are:

  • Complaining of stomach-aches or headaches
  • Mood swings or outbursts
  • Changes in their sleep pattern, or bedwetting
  • Trouble concentrating and school refusal
  • Have become withdrawn

We asked a group of 8 and 9 year olds what is stress and it's symptoms?

The children we asked understood stress as:

  • When you are being wound up
  • When something doesn't go right
  • If they see other people who are stressed this makes them feel stressed.

When we asked the primary children what does stress feel like they gave these answers:

  • Not sleeping 
  • Don't feel like eating
  • Can't focus on school work or things I like doing
  • Feel sad, frustrated or angry
  • Feel up and down
  • Have a headache or wobbly tummy

We also asked our group of 8 and 9 year old children what helps them the most when they feel stressed. Their answers were:

  1. Stress balls
  2. Cuddly toys
  3. Colouring-in or drawing
  4. Music
  5. Anime websites (cartoon animated sites)
  6. Books
  7. Talking to someone 

The children placed stress balls as the most helpful at making them feel better (they particularly liked the idea of making their own stress balls).

Cuddly toys or doing something creative like colouring-in was also a popular answer.

However talking to someone was the last answer they gave and said they would do.
This therefore shows how primary-school-aged children are less likely to communicate to an adult if they are feeling stressed.

"Encouraging your child or young person to talk about their feelings and worries can help you know when they feel stressed."

Stress in young people:

Young people feel stressed by pressures to do well in school and to succeed, feel stressed with body image and appearance, and feel stressed for fear of making mistakes. 

In young people stress may show as:

  • feeling sad
  • being irritable, losing their temper easily
  • finding it hard to keep their mind focussed on school/college work.  

I think my child is stressed, what should I do?

  • Listen to them about how they feel.

  • Help them to break down big tasks or problems into smaller ones can help them feel less overwhelmed.

  • Stress can be a sign of depression. If you suspect your child is depressed, visit our page 'Depression in children and young people 
Who can I speak to for advice

For urgent mental health support call 111, option 2 NHS Mental Health Crisis Line (24/7 helpline for anyone of any age.)

How can I help my child cope with exam stress?

Go to The Source website for young people in Suffolk -The Source has lots of information and support for students on how to manage exam stress.

 

Talking to children/young people about thoughts and feelings

The NHS Choices website - has an advice page on how to start a conversation with your child tiled ‘Talking to children about their feelings’

MindEd-for families website - has a resourceful section for parents and carers about how to find ways to communicate on ‘to children and teenagers when they might need it, titled 'Talking to My Child’ 

Resources to support children/young people's emotional wellbeing

Websites:

The YoungMinds website - has parenting tips to help support young people's emotional wellbeing. Download their 'YoungMinds Parent Survival Guide'.

The Cosmic Kids website - has some fun yoga sessions and mindfulness activities for children. Visit: Cosmic Kids

The Childline website - has a really good advice section aimed at kids, titled ‘Coping with Stress’

The Source website  - is a local website for young people in Suffolk that covers various emotional wellbeing topics, including stress. Visit: www.thesource.me.uk/wellbeing

Moodwise - is a website for 16-25 year olds, which helps young people find digital tools and resources to help them feel better. Visit www.moodwise.org.uk

4YP Suffolk Young People's Health Project - is a local charity that support the social, emotional and physical health and wellbeing of young people in Suffolk. aged 12-25. They provide a counselling service, advice, drop-in sessions and groups. For more details, visit www.4yp.org.uk

 

The Royal College of Psychiatrists website - has practical content which outlines what stress is, its causes, and our ‘Fight or Flight’ built in response on their page titled 'Feeling stressed'. 

They also have an advice page for parents and carers on ’Traumatic Stress in children'. And a list of recommended mental health books for adults, children and teenagers that address a whole range of health and wellbeing issues. Visit: Royal College of Pschiatrists Website - Mental health books section 

Books:

The Boy, The Mole and The horse, by Charlie Mackesy - This is a wonderfully heart-warming book which provides thoughful, positive life lessons through the animal characters. Charlie is a Suffolk based illustrator whose art is known around the world.

Suffolk Libraries - has a list of self-help books suitable for young people and parent/carers available to request. Visit: www.suffolklibraries.co.uk  

Suffolk Parent Hub - has various book recommendations to help parent/carers support children with all sorts of issues. Visit: Suffolk Count Council Website - Parent Hub

Wellbeing Apps:

For helpful Apps that can provide some in-hand support to a young person struggling with an emotional wellbeing issue, please see a list of recommended wellbeing Apps approved by young people on The Source website. Visit:The Source - 'if the App fits' page 

 

Search for local support groups and organisations

To search for emotional wellbeing support groups in your area see our list: local support services and organisations for stress (you can filter the list for what you need).

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