Subscribe now and recieve 50% off all our ebooks as well as updates on all our online special needs resources.
Michele Borba
BY Michele Borba

Is Your Child Stressed Out? How to Recognize the Signs

Most adults these days are well familiar with stress. Work, finances, politics, relationships, even just listening to the news can ratchet up your stress level. Not to mention the stress of raising a child with special needs in a community that is not welcoming and a school system that seems to be trying to make things more difficult.

Unfortunately, stress is becoming a serious problem for children and teens as well. Research finds that between 8 and 10 percent of American children and teens are seriously troubled by stress symptoms. And stress is also hitting our children at younger ages.

Each child handles and shows stress differently. A big key to helping our children is learning to recognize their unique signs and which type of events or issues cause angst. If left untreated, stress not only affects children’s friendships and school success, but also their physical and emotional well-being. Chronic stress breaks down children’s immune systems as well as increasing their likelihood for depression.

What Stresses Kids Out


Kids as young as three years of age experience stress, but it can go unnoticed because preschoolers can’t put their feelings into words. Stressors include:

• new things
• dogs
• monsters
• spiders
• fear of being sucked down a drain
• abandonment of any kind
• being away from home
• separation from parents or loved ones
• fear of being kidnapped

School Age

Kids younger than ten are especially vulnerable to repeated stress. Stressors include:

• performing in front of others (like a speech, recital or sporting event)
• tests, grades, and school
• being chosen last on any team
• getting along with peers
• real world dangers: fires, burglars, illness, storms
• disappointing their parents

Preteen and Teen

Stressors for this age group include:

• grades, school, and homework
• taking on too many activities
• negative thoughts and feelings about themselves
• moving or changing schools
• family pressure, arguing, financial problems, and tension
friends and peer acceptance
• peer humiliation and pressure
• gossip and teasing
• worry about changing bodies, being different from others
• letting their parents down.

Is Your Child Stressed?

Each kid responds differently, and children with special needs in particular may have unique ways of acting out or expressing stress. The key is to identify your child’s physical, behavioral, or emotional signs before he is on overload. Look for behaviors that are not typical for your child. Here are a few of the most common stress signs. Is your child displaying any of these symptoms? What else? Could it be stress-related?

Physical Stress Signs

• headache, neck aches, and backaches
• nausea, diarrhea, constipation, stomachache, vomiting
• shaky hands, sweaty palms, feeling shaky, lightheadedness
• bedwetting
• trouble sleeping, nightmares
• change in appetite
• stuttering
• frequent colds, fatigue

Emotional or Behavioral Stress Signs

• new or reoccurring fears, anxiety, and worries
• trouble concentrating
• frequent daydreaming
• restlessness or irritability
• social withdrawal
• unwilling to participate in school or family activities
• moodiness
• sulking
• inability to control emotions
• nail-biting
• hair-twirling
• thumb-sucking
• fist-clenching
• foot-tapping
• acting out, anger, aggressive behaviors such as tantrums, disorderly conduct
• regression or baby-like behaviors
• excessive whining or crying
• clinging, more dependent, won’t let you out of his sight

What Parents Can Do

If you suspect stress could be the cause of these symptoms in your preteen or teen, look for triggers that you can reduce. For instance, if you suspect scary nightly news could be a trigger, a simple solution is to turn it off! If you child has no time to relax, then cut one of those activities. If the fear of flunking a math class is causing stress, consider getting a tutor and calling for a teacher conference to create a remedy.

Michele Borba

Written on July 11, 2017 by:

Dr. Michele Borba, is an educational psychologist and expert in bullying and character development. She has appeared on TODAY, Dateline, The View, Dr. Phil, CNN, MSNBC, Dr. Oz, Dr. Drew, and The Early Show, among others, and author of 24 books including UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About Me World. For more information, visit Michele at, and on Facebook, and Twitter.