Most adults think of their childhood as the happiest time of their life, but children and teenagers are prone to suffering from stress too – which, because of its detrimental effect on their mood, can even lead to depression. Studies show that almost one in four young people will experience depression before they're 19 years old, caused by peer pressure, school worries and a lot more. And with SATs exams coming up this spring for primary school children, plus GCSEs and A-Levels in secondary schools this summer, many young people may be feeling anxious. We asked the experts at CABA to share some of the common triggers and tips on supporting a child who is experiencing stress.
Common causes of stress in young people
Many children feel under pressure to do well at school. And for some, all the lessons they have to learn during the day – plus the homework they have to do in the evening – can seem overwhelming. Additionally, if a child falls behind with their work, this can lead to stress. It can often mean they don’t have enough free time to play or do other fun activities.
Schoolwork can be a worry for children and teenagers
Exams can put children and teenagers under pressure, and, according to Childline, those aged 12 – 15 were most likely to be asking for help about exam stress. Some of the most common concerns were not wanting to disappoint their parents and fear of failure. As a result, those who contacted Childline said that their exam stress was leading to depression, anxiety, panic attacks and low self-esteem.
3. Peer pressure
Making friends can be difficult and many children feel under pressure to fit in. Sometimes, this means they do things they may not feel comfortable with or are unsure of.
According to the charity Young Minds, bullying affects over one million young people every year. As a parent, there are certain things you can look out for that may suggest your child is having a problem with bullying. These include becoming withdrawn and nervous, performing badly at school, pretending to be ill so they don't have to go to school, not eating or sleeping well, having unexplained injuries like bruising and losing their belongings.
5. World events
It’s impossible to keep disturbing news about things like war, natural disasters and terrorist atrocities from children these days. As a result, some children may worry about their safety as well as that of their parents, family members and friends.
6. Family difficulties or changes
From moving to a new house to parents separating, family difficulties and changes to the norm can be tough on a child or teenager and can cause signs of stress.
Tips for helping your child cope with stress and anxiety
Make time for them
All parents are busy these days, but it’s important to spend more time than usual with your children if you think they’re worried about something. Make yourself available for fun activities or just being in the same room as them. Ask them about their day and show an interest in things that are important to them. But try to avoid forcing them to talk about their worries – they’ll open up when they feel comfortable talking about it.
Breathing exercises can help children relax
Encourage healthy sleep
Getting the right amount of sleep and rest can help children become more resilient to stress. Children need different amounts of sleep at different ages – find out how many hours your children need by visiting NHS Choices.
Feed them healthy food
Try to make sure they’re eating at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. If your children are resistant to eating fruit and veg, there are lots of inventive ways to get them into their diet.
Make stress normal
It may be useful to remind your children that some level of stress is perfectly normal in life, and that everyone is affected by it and has to find ways of coping. Explaining that it’s okay to feel what they’re feeling could give them the confidence they need to manage their stress levels. If it helps, try talking about times when you’ve been stressed, and explain how you tackled it.
Keep them active
Physical activity can help children and adults manage stress, so make sure your children are getting plenty of exercise. Other things you could try with them include relaxation techniques and even things like breathing exercises. Also try leading by example – if you use these methods to manage your own stress levels, your children are more likely to follow in your footsteps. -
What to do if you're worried
If you think your child may be depressed, don’t try to handle it on your own – make an appointment for them to see their GP. Your child’s doctor can refer them to your local child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) for specialist help. These services can provide access to a team of experts, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses, support workers, occupational therapists and psychological therapists.
For more mental and physical wellbeing advice and tips, visit caba.org.uk/help-and-guides
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