Stress and Kids: What's Normal? What's Not?

When it comes to stress and kids-- what's normal and what's not? GALTime Family Therapist Sally Souliere, MSW LICSW, says it's not always easy to tell.

A certain level of stress and worry is normal and healthy for children. In fact, it's officially called "eustress", which is healthy stress or stress that gives positive feelings. This type of stress is often a result of trying new things, maintaining friendships and engaging in daily routines. Eustress propels children forward and gives them a sense of fulfillment. We don't worry about eustress. We do worry about "distress". Distress occurs when a child is unable to adapt to or becomes overwhelmed with life situations or responsibilites. Distress typically has negative implications for children and needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Even the youngest of children can be impacted emotionally, behaviorally and physically by stress.

Related: Detecting Stress In Your Kids

Some typical behaviors that may indicate distress in a child:

Increased aggression
Isolating from family and friends
Unusual episodes of crying
Sudden bedwetting
Change in eating and sleeping habits
Frequent tantrums
Nervous, jittery or agitated behaviors
Stomach aches, headaches or other physical complaints
Troubles at school
Separation anxiety

Related: Are Our Kids More Stressed Than Ever?

Remember that all children may experience some of these behaviors at different points in their development. Let children know that everyone experiences stress and that feelings of anxiety, anger and loneliness are normal. If the behaviors persist, cause significant anxiety or problems at school, it's worth a conversation with the pediatrician, school and/or a professional counselor. A more formal evaluation may be in order.

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