Beyond Making the Grade: How to Spot Stress in Your Kid

Back to school means new adventures, new things to learn, reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones.

Not so bad, right?
Not so fast.

In today’s world, kids are more stressed than ever, and back to school pressures may only compound it.

Can parents tell? Not always. Sometimes kids and teens reach out; sometimes they act out. Sometimes, they internalize it. So that means parents have to watch for red flags, or out-of-the ordinary behaviors, such as difficulty sleeping, headaches, stomach aches, and changes in behavior.

Getting good grades or going to a new school aren’t the only things kids are worried about. There’s bullying, violence, and social, sports, and sexual pressures as well.

The problem is serious. According to an article in the July 28, 2017 Psychology Today, “One out of five children in the US are diagnosed with a seriously debilitating mental health problem and many more suffer from undiagnosed depression and anxiety.

Bruce Compas, Professor of Psychology and Human Development at Vanderbilt University, says stress in kids can cause physical changes as well. “Chronic stress is bad for adults, but it is particularly troublesome for children, because among many other effects, it can disrupt still-developing white matter in the brain, causing long-term problems with complex thinking and memory skills, attention, learning and behavior.”

What can parents do? Here are a few tips from the American Psychological Association; for a complete list of tips, view the APA’s Talking With Your Kids About Stress tip sheet.

Be Available 

  • Notice times when your kids are most likely to talk — for example, at bedtime, before dinner, in the car — and be fully available to just listen.
  • Start the conversation; it lets your kids know you care about what’s happening in their lives.

Listen Actively

  • When your children are talking about concerns, stop whatever you are doing and listen.
  • Express interest in what they are saying without being intrusive.

Respond Thoughtfully

  • Soften strong reactions—kids will tune you out if you appear angry or defensive.
  • Express your opinion without minimizing theirs—acknowledge that it’s OK to disagree.


  • Kids learn by watching their parents. Help your kids to adopt healthy coping strategies by modeling positive behaviors.
  • Engage the family in stress-reducing activities, such as taking a family walk, riding bikes or dancing together.

Seek Additional Help

If you have concerns that your child is experiencing considerable stress and the tips are not sufficiently helping, seek advice from a licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist, licensed by the California Board of Psychology, or a professional licensed by the Board of Behavioral Sciences.

For a comprehensive list of parenting tips and resources on a variety of subjects, go to


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