Telltale Signs of Unmanaged Stress in Kids or Teens

Kids can’t always vocalize stress, so it helps to recognize the signs.

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When you’re an adult, it may be hard to imagine how kids could possibly experience stress. After all, they don’t have bills to pay or work deadlines to meet. Still, kids can feel stress from family conflict, bullying at school, academic challenges, or traumatic events. As a parent or adult, being able to recognize the signs of stress in kids can help you provide support.

Remember, young kids may not be able to recognize or vocalize their own stress. They may “sense” something is wrong, but they have no words for what they’re feeling. As a result, you may see unusual behavior from them, and it’s your job to spot the signs.

Signs of Stress in Kids and Teens

The following signs may suggest that your kid has high or unmanaged stress levels:

1. Irritability

Tantrums, outbursts, and meltdowns may occur. If your child appears to overreacting to small problems frequently, it might be because they’re stressed.

2. Sleep changes

Kids who are stressed may sleep more than usual—or they might sleep less. You may see them being tired during the day, or they may complain of not being able to sleep at night. (Learn more about sleep problems among teens here.)

3. Behavioral changes

They might avoid certain activities or be less interested in hanging out with their friends. Very young children may become unusually “clingy” or develop new fears.

4. Health changes

In addition to their sleep changing, you might also notice a change in appetite. Signs of stress in kids include either eating more (especially “comfort” foods), or eating less. It just depends on how they react to stress.

Additionally, kids under stress may complain about frequent headaches or stomach aches. (Here are other ways stress can affect your physical health.)

5. Letting responsibilities slip

They might forget, skip, or procrastinate tasks, including their homework and chores. To be fair, it’s not unheard of for kids to put off doing their chores. However, if a kid who is usually pretty reliable and responsible suddenly starts letting things fall through the cracks, that may be a sign of stress.

Supporting Your Child

Stress is fine in small amounts from time to time. However, severe and chronic stress isn’t healthy at any age. If you notice signs of stress in kids, you have an opportunity to intervene. In fact, showing your child healthy ways to cope with stress could give them valuable tools for the rest of their lives. If you’re not sure how to help your child, there are therapists and other mental health professionals who can provide additional support.