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Further information

Stress and anxiety

"When my son fell out with his friends at school recently he got really upset and anxious. At first, I wondered what all the fuss was about but then I realised how important friends can be at his age."

Action
Make sure your child gets enough sleep and healthy food. Exercise can reduce stress, so encourage your child to run around with friends outside, rollerblade in the park or ride their bike. Show your child how to breathe deeply and go floppy to de-stress.

What to say
Your child will find it easier to cope with stress if you talk to them about what’s causing it. Tell them it’s normal to feel stressed now and again, but it’s also good to know how to relax and make yourself feel better when they’re upset.

Warning signs

Warning signs that your child is stressed include: mood swings; trouble sleeping; nightmares; bedwetting; trouble doing schoolwork; stomach aches; headaches; preferring to spend time alone; overreacting to minor problems; starting new habits like thumb-sucking.

Prevention

Make time for your child every day so they feel they can talk to you if anything’s worrying them. Look ahead to times when your child might worry, like going back to school after the holidays for example, and talk about the events well in advance.

The facts

  • Children can feel stressed for many reasons
  • Being bullied at school and parents divorcing are two of the most common
  • Sometimes parents don’t realise they’re putting too much pressure on their child to do well at school
  • Children can pick up on their parents' worries and get stressed too
  • Exercise is a great way to reduce stress
  • It's normal to feel stressed sometimes, but it’s also good to know how to relax

Helping them cope

As a parent, you might think that childhood is always a happy and carefree time. Children don’t have to pay bills or have jobs like adults, so what do they really have to worry about?

But sometimes children do get stressed and feel anxious, and there are many reasons why this can happen:

  • They’re being bullied at school. Feeling in danger every day can greatly affect a child’s state of mind
  • They’re not getting on with their friends. It’s natural to want to fit in, and falling out with friends can seem like a really important thing to a child
  • They’re anxious about moving house or school, or going back to school after the holidays
  • A family member, friend or even pet has died. Sometimes, children can blame themselves for these things, even if they had nothing to do with it

Another reason children feel anxious is if their parents divorce or even just fight. When they see their parents arguing it can hurt a child’s sense of security and it can make them feel very alone and frightened. It’s worse when divorced parents make their children choose sides or say hurtful comments about the other parent in front of the child.

Some children worry about schoolwork, tests or exams. It’s perfectly normal wanting your child to do their best, but some parents might not realise they’re putting too much pressure on them to achieve.

If you send out the message that your child must do well in tests, it can create too much anxiety for them. It’s also important to be realistic about your child’s abilities - maybe you did well in exams when you were at school, but that doesn’t mean that your child will, too.

As a parent, be careful what you say - even when you don’t think your child is listening to you. Sometimes, children overhear parents talking about money worries or problems they’re having at work and they start to feel anxious about these things themselves.

You’ll probably be able to help your child when they feel stressed. But if their anxiety goes on for longer than a month, or if it greatly affects how they are at home or their behaviour at school, you might want to speak to their teachers or even ask your doctor for professional help.

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