Children, stress and all that goes with it presents a variety of parenting challenges. Children, stress and the tween years are all familiar friends, as many tweens have to face stress on a daily basis. Most adults regularly experience stress, and with all the responsibilities today’s tweens face (schoolwork, homework, after-school activities, chores, etc.), it’s not uncommon for them to occasionally exhibit symptoms of stress or burnout. Even the summer months can prove stressful to tweens, as they face the possibility of resident camp for the first time or extended family trips away from home.
If your family or your tween is facing a particularly challenging time due to a divorce, the death of a grandparent, or a family move, stress is unavoidable.
Stress and the Symptoms
There are ways to deal with children, stress and all that goes with it and to help your tween through difficult times. The symptoms of stress in tweens may not be easy to spot at first. Some children have a fairly high tolerance for pain and acceptance, so it’s possible that you may initially miss the signals your tween is sending to you. Symptoms of stress differ from child to child, making it even harder to pinpoint.
If you think your child might be suffering from stress or burnout, certain common ailments may surface, including:
Lack of Interest in Activities or School
When children feel overwhelmed, they often compensate by withdrawing from activities they once enjoyed such as school, soccer or piano. Give your tween the chance to explain his loss of interest, and you may quickly find the source of his anxiety. You might also ask another trusted adult if your child has expressed any concerns lately. Check in with her teacher to see if anything might be going on at school that could be the cause of her anxiety.
Irritability and Impatience
Tweens can be irritable or impatient at the drop of a hat under normal circumstances, but a stressed or burned-out tween will exhibit these symptoms to the extreme. Help set the mood by remaining positive and offer up encouragement when your child follows through with homework, chores, or other responsibilities. When he's in a mood, restrain from commenting. Instead, try to involve him in activities he enjoys such as cooking, or video gaming. Time alone in his room might also help pull him out of his funk. Humor, family time, and other distractions are also options to consider.
Frequent Stomach Problems or Headaches
Stress headaches in tweens are often described as painful all over, as opposed to a throbbing pain in one general area. Stomachaches due to stress or emotional issues are generally centered around the naval area and appear without fever, weight loss or other signs of physical illness. Once you find and eliminate the source of your child's stress, these symptoms should disappear.
In addition to the symptoms above, some tweens may be outspoken about their stress, so be sure to listen to what they’re saying. If your tween complains because he never has time to play with his friends or communicates that she’s worried about her grades, it’s time for a parent/child discussion. In this discussion be sure to give your child ample opportunity to express emotions and anxiety. If your tween is uncomfortable expressing himself verbally, he may be willing to communicate in some other way, such as through art or even email.
Is there enough time in the week for your tween to play outside, read books for fun, or spend time with friends? Many tweens have daily schedules that are overbooked with activities and daily responsibilities. Often times these responsibilities are necessary, however, a child who runs from one extracurricular activity to another might need to come up for air. If you suspect your child's stress is due to burnout, cut back on activities for a while to see if the situation improves.
It’s important to note that children who have time to play outdoors and interact with nature are less likely to suffer from stress. In addition, research suggests that these children might also do better academically than their peers. Be sure to build outdoor playtime into your child's schedule every week. Outdoor play can be as simple as riding a bike in the neighborhood or hanging out in the backyard with friends.
Most of the time, the source of your child’s stress can be eliminated. If not, such as when the stress is due to a divorce or another situation beyond your tween’s control, you can still help your tween learn to deal with the problem. Children can cope with stress through art, journaling or one-on-one time with you or a special friend. Sometimes simple changes in your child’s routine and schedule may be enough to make the difference. Occasionally, professional help may be needed.