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Healthy Kids: Helping kids handle stress

During her 25 years as a pediatrician, Dr. Pilar Bradshaw with Eugene Pediatric Associates has seen an increase in the number of kids experiencing anxiety and stress-related illness.

The 2015 American Psychiatric Association’s Stress in America survey found that high school students report stress levels that top those of adults. But it’s not just teens, more and more kids are showing signs of stress as early as grade school.

“Young kids now, as young as 4 and 5 or younger, are showing real signs of physical and emotional stress,” says Dr. Bradshaw.

Kids, especially younger ones, don’t typically describe what they’re feeling as stress. Instead, those feelings often manifest as headaches, stomachaches, nightmares or trouble sleeping. Parents should watch for changes in their child’s eating and/or sleep patterns, sudden changes in their friend group, or a significant change in their mood.

“Take notice if your child is suddenly much more irritable or tearful, or if you notice he or she is withdrawing from things they used to typically enjoy,” Dr. Bradshaw says.

The causes of a child’s stress or anxiety can vary. A national survey by WebMD reports that common stressors include:

  • School and/or homework
  • Problems with friends
  • A child’s home environment

Being overscheduled with activities and responsibilities can also take its toll on a child, as well as exposure to social media.

“Social media is a stressor for a lot of kids,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “Some of the apps that the teens and tweens are using allow them to compare themselves with others. They may end up feeling left out or short of the so-called ‘Kardashian goal.’”

Be sure your child is getting enough sleep and eating right. Imbalances in either of those areas can cause kids to become stressed.

It’s also possible your child’s change in mood could be caused by something as simple as a vitamin D deficiency, which is common for people living in the Pacific Northwest. A test can determine if your child is deficient, which can be remedied by taking a daily supplement.

Be sure to discuss any changes in your child’s mood or behavior with your health care provider.

It’s important to identify when your child is overwhelmed or anxious, because the stress kids feel in childhood can mount as they get older.

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