DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I have two children, ages 12 and 15. They are both good students, participate in athletics and enjoy spending time with friends. While both kids are back to in-person school after the COVID-19 pandemic, my oldest child seems to have less interest in activities. How do I know if I need to get him help?
ANSWER: Life is full of unpredictable changes. Some can be exciting and motivating, while others can lead to increased stress, poor health and anxious feelings.
Stress is an automatic physical, mental and emotional response to challenging events. It's a normal part of everyone's life, including the lives of children. They have faced many new, potentially stressful, situations during the COVID-19 pandemic. For some, there have been changes in school and activity routines, family changes with moves or parent's career disruptions, and concerns over their health or even the loss of a loved one.
Children, especially teenagers, aren't likely to ask their parents to help them manage their stress. Sometimes, they don't even recognize that they are feeling stressed.
As a caregiver, you might notice something is off before they do. Helping your children manage their stress can lead to more balanced and healthier lives.
Children aren't mini-adults, and they may express stress in different ways than you might expect. Here are a few signs that your children may be stressed out or could use some extra support:
• Emotional outbursts or increased irritability: Stress leads to stronger feelings of anger and irritability. Your children may have emotional outbursts that are inconsistent with their previous behavior or the current situation.
• Trouble sleeping: Worries and fears seem to come out at bedtime. Children who are stressed may have trouble falling or staying asleep, or start having nightmares.
• Withdrawing from others: Children who are stressed may want to spend more time alone and not interact with friends or family.
• Struggles with school: Significant changes in your children's school performance can be a sign of stress. Stress makes it harder for children to focus during the school day or when doing homework. Additionally, trouble with friends and classmates can cause stress.