We’re concerned about some of the changes in our 12-year-old daughters behavior. Over the past several months she seems to feel more overwhelmed, her grades have gone down, she isn’t eating like she used to and she doesn’t care to spend as much time with her friends. We’ve had a lot of transitions including moving and having a new baby boy join our family and wonder if what we’re seeing could be caused by all of the stress we’ve experienced.
The symptoms you’ve noted could be caused by a number of things but looking at excess stress is a great place to start. The ideal of childhood being a time when kids are carefree and don’t have any real pressures, responsibilities or worries is far from the reality. All kids struggle with moderate to extreme levels of stress and teaching our children how to identify and manage stress in an increasingly frantic, frenetic and stress-filled world is more important that ever.
While there are many indicators of excessive stress in a child the two most common indicators are a change in their behavior (away from their usual pattern) and/or a regression of their behavior to what they did when they were younger.
What are some specific symptoms to look for? Some of the physical symptoms might include insomnia, fatigue, headaches, stomachaches, chest pain, bed-wetting and appetite loss. Emotional symptoms might include increased aggression, mood swings, emotional outbursts, anxiety and social isolation. Cognitive symptoms might include difficulty in concentrating and decision-making. Behavioral symptoms might include hitting, kicking, bed-wetting, biting, fingernail biting.
What can you do? First of all, in keeping with Deuteronomy 6: 5-9’s emphasis on modeling, make sure you model healthy habits in the way you manage stress in your own life and in your home. Pray with her and for her. Make individual talk-time with her and listen. Acknowledge her feelings and help her name those feelings. Model the importance of regular exercise and good nutrition. Model how to set limitations to her activities and prioritize what’s most important. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests limiting a child screen time to a maximum of two hours a day so be sure to limit her screen time. Model some basic relaxation strategies including listening to good music, prayer and reminding ourselves of God’s promises.
This is a great opportunity for you to teach your daughter practical ways to deal with stress that can help her become more resilient and give her some of the critical skills necessary to navigate the increasing stressors she’ll face for the rest of her life.