Expert tips on how to deal with stress in children

Stress can affect us all, and that includes children. With exam season now in full swing, what are the warning signs of stress in children?

Official Mind stock image for Younger Mind

When we think about children we think about happiness, laughter and carefree play – a world that is free from pressure, concern and anxiety – but recent studies into young people suggest a growing concern over the levels of stress that they are experiencing. And that many adults (and children) are dismissing the signs of stress because our intuitions tell us otherwise.

The Mental Health Foundation estimates as many as one in six young people experience an anxiety-related problem like stress. And, worryingly, 50% of mental health problems are said to be established by age 14, according to the WHO.

But it’s not just teenagers that have such stark figures relating to mental health. A study by UK Youth to launch its #KeepMeSafe campaign found that young adults (18-25 year olds) spend more than six hours a day “stressed out” and worrying about money, appearance and their career. And, last year a study by The Guardian reported that 8 out 10 school leaders were noticing signs of stress in primary school children sitting national tests.

But while exam stress is prevalent, stress in children and young people can be caused by a number of issues, including peer pressure, instabilities at home or school and increased access to misleading and inappropriate information across media channels.

Dr Su Sukumaran, a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre, says: “It is important to identify and manage possible triggers. These may include family stresses, such as bereavement, divorce or illness, or bullying, abuse or other trauma. Exams and other pressures at school are a common cause of stress for teenagers nowadays. They may have an undetected learning difficulty, like dyslexia, which they coped with when younger, but has become disabling in the higher school years. If you suspect your child may be suffering with any kind of mental illness, it’s important to be supportive, show concern, and be open with them.”

While it is more important than ever for parents and teachers to recognise the signs of stress, children themselves also need to feel able to talk openly about anything that is causing them to worry but often they find it difficult to seek advice from a close relative or friend.

Read more: How do children deal with stress and how should parents respond? Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg answers

Mental health charity, Younger Mind, part of North Staffs Mind, has launched a free phone service for young people who need support for their mental health. Its Live Minds phone number: 0800 0051 445 went live in April this year and will be available to young people on Wednesdays from 4pm to 8pm and Thursdays between 4pm and 9pm providing confidential support and advice.

Ryan Smith, Live Minds project manager for North Staffs Mind, said: “We launched Live Minds as an 0800 Freephone service as a direct result of feedback we received from young people living in Stoke-on-Trent during the consultation process.

“Pupils from several schools in Stoke were involved, as well as some from a local support group. They were very positive about Live Minds as a service, but many expressed concern that the cost of calling would prevent them accessing support from Live Minds.

“We are really grateful for their active and honest input and we are extremely pleased to be able to deliver them a free to call support service.”

So what are the signs to look out for and how can we help?

Keep reading: Tips for tackling stress in children, from pre-schoolers to young adults 

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