How to recognise a child suffering from stress

Is Your Child Stressed Out?

May 4th 2016

Figures show that 1 in 10 children now struggle with mental health problems such as anxiety or depression. We look at the reasons why, and how to recognise a child suffering from stress.

The world we live in has become increasingly global – and that means increasingly competitive. For our children, the pressure to succeed has rocketed over the last 20 years, and a number of reports suggest that this is having a negative impact on children’s mental health.

The charity Young Minds reveals that over one million children between the ages of 5 and 15 are suffering from stress, with signs of mental health problems starting as early as 2 or 3 years old – and the NSPCC has reported that academic stress is the root cause of over 50% of these problems.

1. A Stressful School System

There’s no doubt that the British school system has become more stressful. Children these days are constantly assessed and tested, and the digital world means that parents get more data and more results faster and more often than ever before, leading to constant checking up on a child’s progress. Away from pure academics, more and more parents are filling their children’s free time with tutoring, and with purposeful extra curricular activities, in the hope of creating the elusive “well rounded” future university candidate.

As a result, children often feel rushed, harassed, pressured to take part in things they don’t really want to do and with next to no time to just chill out and be themselves. Of course, no parent wants their child to be stressed, but the signs that your child is turning from a happy, busy little soul into a stressed out one are gradual and subtle, and can be hard to miss.

2. Signs of Childhood Stress

Every child handles stress in a different way, but as a general rule, these tend to be some of the warning signs:

  • A change in sleeping patterns – too much or too little sleep
  • A change in eating patterns – overeating, or eating too little
  • Cheating, due to the desire not to fail
  • A lack of interest in friends or hobbies which used to please them
  • Regular unexplained physical symptoms, such as headaches and tummy aches
  • A refusal to go to school
  • In teens, destructive behaviour such as alcohol, drugs or self harm

If you notice one or more of the above, then it’s time to consider whether your child is stressed, and if so, about what. Gentle and subtle questioning and observation is better than confrontation, so be patient while trying to find out what’s going on.

3. Prevent Childhood Academic Stress

Stress in childhood can be caused by any number of things, many of which – such as bereavements or relationship breakdowns – are beyond your control as a parent.

However, you can minimize academic stress by adopting some of these guidelines:

  • Help your child to set realistic academic and career goals – and be realistic about your own expectations for them too.
  • Redefine what you consider as “success” and tailor it specifically to your child’s interests and personality. They are not you!
  • Don’t talk about other siblings’ or other children’s successes (or failures) in front of your child. It’s not a competition.
  • Cherish and nurture your child’s strengths – both academic and non academic. Help them to address academic weaknesses where necessary, but do not expect to turn a weakness into a strength.
  • Avoid keeping a daily track on your child’s progress. Let them come to you with any problems, but don’t constantly be on their case about their latest marks.
  • Create plenty of free time for your child – real free time, for them to do as they wish, not enforced free time which you fill with your choice of suitable activity.

4. Healthy Stress?

Of course, a small amount of stress and pressure can be good for us. It’s normal to feel stressed in the run up to an exam, and this can be motivating and help us to do our best. It’s not normal, however, or acceptable, to feel under constant pressure.

Ultimately, you know your child best, and you know how she copes with and performs under stress. You are the only ones who can tell when your child’s stress levels have crossed the line, and she’s relying on you to help make it stop – don’t be afraid to challenge the school if the pressure is too much.


William Clarence Education is the leading education advisory and consultancy service in the UK. With an unrivalled reach into the UK Schooling and University network, we help and advise families from around the world to reach their maximum potential and gain access to the very best of British education.  

William Clarence put the student’s needs and welfare at the centre of every programme of study we deliver with a focus on integrity and discretion.  Services include UK School and University Placement, Residential Tutoring, Oxbridge Application, US College Admission and Homeschooling.

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