Michele Borba: Could Your Kid Be Stressed-Out? Signs to Look For..

by | Jul 19, 2009 | The Big Book of Parenting Solutions

By Michele Borba

REALITY CHECK: Did you know that stressed-out kids are two to four times[ii] more likely to develop depression, and as teens they are much more likely to become involved with substance abuse? What’s tricky is that stress in kids can sometimes appear “disguised” as a cold, irritability, or even like a teen “attitude.” Do you know how to spot stress signs in your kid?

Here is a recent email query I received from a parent:

Question–My eight-year old is so tense lately. She can’t sleep, is moody, and is having a tough time focusing on her schoolwork. Could this be stress-related? How do I know the signs to look for in my child?

Answer–Stress isn’t just for adults. Studies show today’s kids are feeling a lot more pressure than we think they are, and stress symptoms are showing up in kids as young as three. Each kid responds to stress differently, but the key is to identify your child’s physical behavioral or emotions signs before he is on overload. A clue is to look for behaviors that are not typical for your child.

Here are stress signs to look for in a child:

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 Behavior 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; or inability to control emotions
  • Nail biting; hair twirling; thumb-sucking; fist clenching; feet 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 sight, withdrawal

When Should You Worry?

All kids will display signs of stress every now and then. Be concerned[i] when you see a marked change in what is “normal” for your child’s behavior that lasts longer than two weeks. When you see your child struggling and feeling overwhelmed, it’s time to seek help from a mental health professional.

This blog is an excerpt from Michele Borba’s latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.

For daily parenting solutions you can follow Michele on twitter @micheleborba  or or



[i] When to worry: Based on a personal conversation with David Fassler, New York City, New York November 6, 2007.

[ii] Stressed kids more likely to be depressed: 2003 study of 649 college students by sociologists Heather Turner and Melissa Butler at the University of New Hampshire found that childhood stress was a significant factor in young-adult depression.  P. J. Kiger, “What’s Wrong With This Picture? The Stress-Out American Family, Part Four,” Ladies Home Journal, June 2004. p. 132.

For daily parenting solutions you can follow Michele on twitter @micheleborba

Dr. Michele Borba is the author of over 23 books including the upcoming Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.