According to the APA's Stress in America report (Jan. 2010), more than two-thirds (69 percent) of parents of teens and tweens say that their stress has slight or no impact on their children. But the kids disagree: only 14 percent of them say their parent's stress doesn't affect them. "Recent studies have shown that a large amount of day-to-day stressors have the same negative impact as one or two large ones," says Alicia Nordstrom, PhD specializing in child psychology at Misericordia University in Dallas, PA.

The problem may be that parents don't recognize the symptoms of stress in their kids. "Stress in children can look like what you'd expect as well as what you might not expect," explains Nordstrom who teaches courses on childhood disorders. "Some children get headaches or experience changes in eating or sleeping patterns. Some display nervous behaviors like nail biting, chewing on clothing, or pulling on hair. Others internalize it and become withdrawn or stop doing activities they previously enjoyed."

Children in the Stress in America report say a stressed out parent gives it away when he yells (34 percent or one-third of the children surveyed say their parent yells when he/she is stressed.) Nordstrom, who is also the mother of a three-year-old, says stress can trigger misbehavior in kids as well. "Some stressed children take out their feelings aggressively on other children or adults. Sleep disorders such as night terrors (when children scream during the night and are difficult to awaken but have no memory of it the next day) may also be linked to stressful feelings but tend to decrease when stresses recede."

What's Got Kids Stressed?

For children age 8 to 17 it's worries about doing well in school, getting into good colleges, and their family's finances. Additionally, kids report that homework; relationships with teachers, friends, peers; gossip and teasing are also a source of stress as well as the birth of a brother or sister, moving to a new school or when a parent remarries. Teens, in particular, worry about being attractive and not having enough privacy.

Nordstrom advises parents to carefully observe their children and take note of behavior that may be stress-induced. "Parents often try and protect their kids from stress but kids can see through it. Often just spending time with a child-connecting with him or her --will go a long way toward making the child feel better."

The Stress in America survey results seem to support Nordstrom's theory: 75 percent of the kids surveyed said they want and need their parents' help in times of trouble even though "talking to parents" ranked eighth on the list of the most popular coping methods.

Here are ideas about what parents can do to help destress their kids.

American Psychological Association

Interview with Alicia Nordstrom, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology
Misericordia University, Dallas, PA

Nemours Foundation

North Dakota State University (coping with stress booklet for kids)