Signs of Stress in Children

I have noticed that building resilience happens most naturally when there is an appropriate amount of tension in a child’s life. This appropriate amount of tension can be likened to a rubber band. Pull it tight and it does its job. Pull it too tight and you run the risk of it snapping.

Environments where children have to adapt, learn, grow and dig deep to survive are exceptionally good for developing resilience.  However, exposure to struggles can only develop resilience in our children if they have the skills to cope.  For some children, the stressors can become so intense that resilience is overwhelmed.

For all of us, resilience isn’t a fixed or stagnant position. It needs to be nurtured and protected once gained, and taught and practised when it is absent.  Some children experience multiple setbacks at vulnerable points in their lives. It is no wonder that their resilience diminishes. The good news is that because of resilience’s fluidity, it can always improve. With the right support, children with low resilience levels can go on to flourish in later stages of life, just as much as those who have consistently shown strong resilience levels.

How our children manage stress has a great deal to do with their ability to maintain strong resilience levels. If our children live in a depleted state, they are more likely to struggle during their next challenge.  Much like a marathon runner, our children need to have a strong mental condition to face their daily journey.  A depleted physical and mental state will only make them more likely to injure themselves or fatigue too early. We never know what tomorrow is going to bring – for us or our kids. So, keeping our family healthy gives them a good starting point if they need to respond to a crisis.

As parents, we can be on the lookout for signs that our children’s reserves are depleting.  Small changes such as going to bed later than normal or ‘numbing out’ in front of a screen are things worth noting, and may indicate a child is feeling more stressed than normal.  A child’s lack of joy always concerns me.  When children stop smiling, laughing and being curious about the world, I am prompted to ask questions. 

During challenging times, when stress levels are high, our bodies rely on our ability to recalibrate to regain balance. If your body does not recover from stress it can suffer harmful effects. For those who experience trauma, a lack of recalibration can lead to long-term and lasting mental health problems.  Teaching our children to make room in their schedules to regain rebalance is not only important, but essential.

We need to be on the lookout for signs of stress in your children. Stress affects each individual differently, and therefore the list of signs below is not exhaustive:

o   headaches

o   loss of appetite

o   stomach aches

o   low energy

o   muscle tension

o   increased irritability

o   difficulty concentrating

o   negative self-talk

o   changes in socialising

o   frequent colds

o   acting out

o   waking up in the night

o   having trouble falling asleep

o   wanting to be connected to their phone so they don’t miss out on anything

o   wanting to remain busy all the time

o   being more dependent

o   bedwetting

o   nail biting

o   withdrawing

o   being perfectionistic

o   talk less and becoming more withdrawn

o   break down in tears

o   say, ‘I can’t do it. I’m not good enough.’ 

o   compare himself to what other kids look like (E.g. ‘he’s taller than me’)

o   feel that all expectations are too much

o   put unrealistic expectations on himself

o   talk negatively about his body (E.g. ‘the girls won’t like me because I am puny’)

o   get frustrated and annoyed with siblings

o   talk negatively about himself (E.g. thinks he has failed an exam when he hasn’t)

o   blame parents and teachers

o   get anxious to visit new places.

Here are a list of great resources for parents whose children are struggling with anxiety:

And of course I always recommend @hey_sigmund. She’s my personal favourite! Hey Warrior Book

For more, check out Michelle’s book Everyday Resilience: Helping Kids Handle Friendship Drama, Academic Pressure and the Self-doubt of Growing Up”.  This book is available in all good bookstores and .


Thousands of parents have already benefited from these resources. Find these, and more, at Michelle’s Shop.

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Michelle Mitchell