Keeping an eye out for stress in kids
The California Surgeon General’s “Playbook” offers tips for stress relief for caregivers and children while sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. While adults tend to recognize stress in themselves, children, no matter their age, may not necessarily recognize it, verbalize it and it may not show up in the same way that stress does for adults. During challenging times, bodies may make more stress hormones than usual. This can show up differently for different people. Babies may have differences in the sleeping and eating patterns. Toddlers and preschoolers may regress when it comes to developmental milestones they had already achieved (like sleeping through the night or bed wetting). However, one of the most common ways stress shows itself in school-aged kids is changes in their behavior. They may be a bit more irritable, bouncing off the walls, expressing boredom,or having a hard time managing their impulses, paying attention or focusing, or new behaviors may arise. Teenagers and adolescents may become more withdrawn. Many kids may show no behavioral symptoms at all. For some kids, increased stress hormones may show up as headaches, tummy aches, difficulty sleeping or worsening health issues like asthma, eczema or more frequent infections. In teenagers, an increase in risk-taking behaviors may arise, such as using substances such as tobacco, marijuana (including vaping), alcohol or other substances as well as an increased interest in sexual contact. Girls may also see changes in the timing or duration of their menstrual period. Mental health professionals stress that it’s helpful to keep in mind that these changes aren’t “just in their heads.” Increased stress leads to biological changes in people’s brains and bodies that can affect kids’ health, behavior and development. The good news is there are simple things one can do every day, at home, to help regulate a child’s stress response system and buffer the negative impacts of stress, keeping them healthy and on the right developmental track. For parents of children with asthma, diabetes or another health condition, it is important to be monitoring that condition more closely during times of stress. Many chronic illnesses are worsened by stress, so building a routine that practices the stress-busting strategies can help to combat the impact of the increase in stress hormones. For stress-busting tips, visit https://211connectingpoint.org/nevada-county/covid-19/mental-health or call the National Parent Helpline at 1-855-427-273.
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