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Signs your child is experiencing stress

Written by Marsenia Smalls, LGPC. Clinically reviewed by Jacqueline Mitchell, LMSW

Stress, though sometimes positive, can become overwhelming. The American Institute of Stress reports that individuals aged 15 – 29 and 30 – 49 experience the highest stress levels. They identify five main stress sources for youth: academics at 78%, parents at 68%, with romantic relationships, friendship, and sibling problems at 64%.

Adolescent stress may differ from that of adults, often manifesting through negative behavior changes impacted by family dynamics, school settings, and environment. These changes can include irritability, moodiness, obsessive worry, hostility, appetite changes, or withdrawal from previous interests. Situations perceived as difficult, dangerous, or painful can heighten worry in children, leading to increased stress or tension.

Moreover, excessive stress can result in anxiety, withdrawal, aggression, physical illness, and poor coping skills like drug/alcohol use. This can trigger the body’s fight vs flight response when stress isn’t handled appropriately. Parents can help by monitoring their child’s behavior for changes and listening carefully if feelings of being overwhelmed are mentioned. Effective stress management and coping strategies are crucial. Remember: children aged 6-12 years need 9-12 hours of sleep, while teens require 8-10 hours. Exercise is beneficial for all ages to manage and cope with stress.

What Signs Should Parents Look Out For?

Common stress sources for children/teens include school demands, physical changes, peer problems, unsafe communities, chronic illness, death of a loved one, relocation, family financial issues, and changes in family dynamics like separation, divorce, or remarriage. Stress may manifest through behavioral changes, such as sleep disturbances, academic problems, irritability, difficulty concentrating, obsessive worry, and negative self-talk.

It’s important to seek support if stress affects day-to-day tasks, impacting behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. Working with a licensed mental health professional can help identify problems and develop effective stress management strategies.

When Should Parents Take Action?

  1. Sleep Changes
    Trouble falling or staying asleep may indicate stress. Sleep deprivation can hinder
    stress coping, while excessive sleep may suggest depression and/or anxiety.
  2. Academic Problems
    Increased stress during exams may lead to declining grades and attendance. Adjusting
    routines and reducing responsibilities can provide more study and downtime.
  3. Increased Irritability
    Extreme responses to minor inconveniences may signal feeling overwhelmed. Offer
    alternative ways to express frustrations, like journaling.
  4. Difficulty Concentrating
    When overwhelmed, adolescents may struggle to concentrate on schoolwork or
    responsibilities. Check in with your child and encourage focus breaks.
  5. Illness
    Stress weakens the immune system, making adolescents more susceptible to colds and
    other illnesses. Frequent headaches or stomach aches may also occur.
  6. Obsessive Worry
    Intense stress levels can lead to persistent thoughts about worst-case scenarios. Assist
    your child by exploring positive outcomes.
  7. Negative Self-Talk
    Overwhelmed children may perceive the world negatively. Combat negative thinking with
    positive reinforcement and affirmations.


If you suspect your child is overwhelmed with stress, create a space for discussion without minimizing their feelings. Seek professional help if stress interferes with daily life. Therapy can provide valuable coping mechanisms. Backpack Healthcare offers accessible therapy, accepting most insurances, including Medicaid. Download our self-care app for more resources and assistance in getting started.


How to help children and teens manage their stress. (2022, October 19).
Identifying signs of stress in your children and teens. (2019, September 5).
Lcsw, A. M. (2023, September 24). 10 signs your teen is stressed out. VerywellMind.
Marksberry, K. (2022, April 6). Teens – The American Institute of Stress. The American
Institute of Stress.

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