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Oregon Family Magazine

Signs Your Child is Feeling Stressed this Back-to-School Season

08/28/2023 ● By Nick Norman
As summer comes to an end for many kids heading back to school, it’s normal for stressors to sink in as students navigate a new grade, changing friend circles, or perhaps a new school altogether. Parents and caregivers should learn the signs of student stress and how to support kids as they make this transition. 

While some signs of stress may be obvious to caregivers, it’s important to know that children and adolescents do not always express these emotions in the same way as adults. Here are a few signs to look for: 

  • Withdrawing. If your child is typically outgoing and engaged, pay attention to any closing down or “shutting off” of emotion. Withdrawing can be a sign that a child is feeling overwhelmed and attempting to keep difficult feelings away. 
  • Emotional outbursts or acting out. If stress is building up at school, it can be easier or more acceptable to expel that frustration at home. Watch for sudden mood swings or aggressive behavior. It may mean that things are getting difficult at school and those emotions are being released at home.  
  • Academic or behavioral issues at school. A sudden drop in academic performance or misbehaving in class may be an indicator of a new stressor in a child’s life. Teachers and support staff may be able to help identify if this is part of a larger concern.  
  • Physical symptoms Children may present physical issues rather than emotional or behavioral issues. Pay attention to unusual or recurring symptoms, such as: 
  • Stomach aches or digestive issues 
  • Body aches or headaches 
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Trouble sleeping 

As always, seek the consultation of a doctor for any concerning physical symptoms 

  • Depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts. Any broader symptoms of mental health difficulties should be given clear attention. While depression and anxiety can emerge during any period of life, it is common for them to appear in teenage years.  

As a caregiver, here is what you can do to support your children when you see these signs: 

  • Shore up your home community. No matter what your family looks like, community is the best protective factor for children and adolescents. Be intentional about family time, and establish group routines like family dinners, game nights, or working as a group to tidy up the house. 

Never underestimate the value of regular one-on-one time, no matter how brief. Some studies suggest that even 15 minutes of focused attention from a caregiver each day has a beneficial impact. Just pop into their room from time to time and ask, “how are you?” When they talk, be sure to show that you’re engaged and listening to what they choose to share. 

  • Encourage them to do things they enjoy. As stress increases, children may stop doing things they enjoy. Encourage them to get up and do something pleasurable, just for the fun of it. This can give them a much-needed break from the added pressure that school can bring.  
  • Encourage healthy diet and healthy activity. The food we eat and the way we move our bodies are the foundation of good mental health. Encourage kids to eat fresh, unprocessed foods and to get plenty of exercise (preferably doing something fun!).  
  • Coordinate with teachers and support staff. Your child’s teacher is a front-line partner for understanding your child’s needs and helping them succeed in school. Along with support staff such as school counselors, they are key allies in meeting your child’s mental health needs.  

Never hesitate to seek help from qualified professionals when it comes to your child’s mental health, especially if they’re displaying signs of severe anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts.  Professionals can work with you to identify specific actions that can make a world of difference in your child’s life.