It’s mostly changes in a child’s attitude that will help you detect stress. For example, a child who suddenly becomes too calm, or conversely, overexcited, when that’s not his usual state of being. You’re the best person to judge if your child is stressed.
There are no specific stress indicators in children. “Signs of stress vary greatly from one child to another. It’s mostly changes in a child’s attitude that will help you detect stress,” explains Pierrich Plusquellec. For example, a child who suddenly becomes too calm, or conversely, overexcited, when that’s not his usual state of being. You’re the best person to judge if your child is stressed.
“Attitudes that result from an accumulation of excess energy can also be symptoms of stress. They can translate into restlessness, excessive opposition or sleep disturbances,” explains the researcher.
Appetite disorders can be another symptom. “When we’re under stress, the digestive system shuts down, so we don’t feel hungry at all,” says Plusquellec. A child who has difficulty interacting with others may be another sign of stress. Therefore, children who keep to themselves or are withdrawn, even when they’re very young, may be more prone to anxiety.
“My five-year-old son twirls his hair around his fingers when he’s feeling anxious, to the point of having caused bald spots three times. He started when he was about three, when his good friends left the daycare for kindergarten. That’s also about the time his twin sisters were born and he started pre-kindergarten. His doctor told me not to worry and gave me a few tips: rather than telling him to stop twirling his hair, I should ask him to help me, to get his hands busy doing something else. I also try to guess what could be worrying him by having some one-on-one playing time with him, and I help play down the situation using a stuffed animal as guide.”
- Julie P., Varennes
Nevertheless, not all children react to all stressors in the same way. One child may be more sensitive to novelty, another to unpredictability and yet another to a threat to his ego: all in reaction to the same stressful situation. For example, different children, even within the same family, will experience a move to a new house in different ways.
Stress and eczema
”My children all suffer from eczema, but my eldest gets it when he’s stressed. For my third pregnancy, we were expecting twins. Sadly, one of them died in utero after six months. My five-year-old therefore experienced the pregnancy and the loss of his sister with us. When his little brother required six weeks of hospitalization, he had the worst case of eczema ever. We couldn’t understand what had triggered it, until he asked us if his brother was going to die, too. We had told him that his sister was very sick and that was why she died. He had therefore associated his brother’s sickness, even though it wasn’t life-threatening, to his possible death!”
- Véronique F., Burton