Kids are generally incredibly resilient. Most kids can weather stress in their lives like pros, and some can learn to adapt to big life changes even better than adults.  However, when kids are stressed out, sometimes it’s hard to spot. Without the ability to fully express their feelings, you may see physical, mood, or behavioral changes in children (especially young children) when they need some extra support.

Physical Signs

  • Changing Appetite
    • Eating more, including comfort eating or complaining of feeling hungry after eating regular meals
    • Newly picky eating or insisting they aren’t hungry
  • Changes in Sleep Patterns
    • Insomnia, having a hard time falling asleep
    • Frequent nightmares
    • New or renewed bedwetting
    • Sleeping too much, falling asleep at odd times, asking to go to bed earlier
  • Aches and Pains
    • Frequent headaches
    • Frequent stomachaches

Mood & Behavioral Signs

  • Hyperfocus on Illness
    • Keep in mind, it’s very natural for children to “play” new things in their lives like getting their temperature taken, washing hands, wearing masks, and even talking about people getting sick. Children talking, playing, or asking about these things is natural and healthy, but when a child becomes overly focused on them it could be a warning sign of anxiety. 
    • Focusing too much on sensations in their body
    • Seeking reassurance from you that their “symptoms” don’t match up with Covid-19
    • Asking to have their temperature taken several times a day as reassurance they are not sick
  • Withdrawal
    • Clinginess
    • Unwilling to do the fun activities they used to
    • Newly anti-social
    • New distress when separated from parents
  • Heightened Emotions
    • New anger, aggression, or stubbornness
    • Overreacting emotionally to small triggers
    • New tearfulness, anxiety, or fearfulness

How can you support your child when you see warning signs?

  1. Talk to your child.  Ask them about their feelings in a way that doesn’t make them feel judged or in trouble. Keep in mind young children can’t express themselves as well as older children, and even older children may need some space or time to really explain how they feel.
  2. Tell them they are safe. Younger children generally need to be told they are safe, while you can have more nuanced conversations with older children. We all know that there is risk in the world, especially today, but you can reassure your child by telling them all of the things you are doing to keep them safe and what you can do together. Wearing a mask, keeping safe distances, and washing hands all help keep us healthy. You can ask them what they know about the virus (there is a lot of misinformation in the world among adults, just think what kids might hear!), and correct anything they might get wrong.
  3.  Take action. Kids may feel out of control during these times, and taking action to help themselves or their community stay safe can help. Tie dye your own mask or make a safety checklist (mom’s mask, dad’s mask, my mask, hand sanitizer, ready to go!) to hang by the door.   Color a picture, make some cookies, or collect donated supplies or money for local health care workers (we are helping people who are working to keep us all healthy!).
  4. Seek support. If you feel like your child is overwhelmed or developing some symptoms of anxiety that are worrying, reach out to their primary care physician or click here for a listing of mental health clinics by Indiana county.  Professionals like these can help you help your child develop some healthy coping mechanisms to replace unhealthy ones or to alleviate some emotional distress.

Also don’t forget, kids take their cues from us–if we are stressed, it will probably stress them out. Take care of yourself, too! BeWellIndiana.com is a great starting point for you to see how you can improve your own stress levels, including an online mental health screening and lots of resources to take advantage of online and all over Indiana.

References:

https://www.lifespan.org/lifespan-living/coronavirus-kids-and-signs-stress

https://www.bgca.org/news-stories/2020/June/Warning-Signs-Kids-and-Teens-are-Stressed-and-How-to-Help

https://www.cdc.gov/childrenindisasters/helping-children-cope.html

–Jasmine C is the Marketing Specialist of Finding Me Now Learning Center