Children showing signs of stress and anxiety, parents say

By Alison Kershaw, PA Education Correspondent

More than half of parents say their child has shown signs of stress or anxiety in the last year, according to a survey.

Mothers and fathers are reporting children crying more than usual, outbursts of anger at school and home and having problems with sleeping, their stomachs and difficulty concentrating due to worries about issues such as friendships, school and bullying.

The findings, published by the Booktrust, come at a time of growing attention on children’s mental health and wellbeing.

Overall, around 53% of those questioned said that in the past 12 months, their youngster has shown signs of emotional stress or anxiety.

More than two in five parents (42%) – who had children aged four to 11 – said their son or daughter has angry outbursts at home, with a further 13% saying they have them at school.

Over a third (36%) said their child cries more than usual, while 28% reported trouble sleeping, and 25% said their youngster had problems with concentration.

Nearly one in five (19%) said their youngster has stomach problems.

Asked what were the biggest causes of these issues, the most popular response was friendship problems (33%) followed by school work (26%), family life (20%) and bullying (18%).

In order to start a discussion about mental health and wellbeing, almost half (48%) of mums and dads said they had engaged their child in an activity such as cooking, reading, baking or watching a film.

And some 40% said they brought it up directly in a private space.

The vast majority of those surveyed (90%) agreed that reading with their child was a good way to start up conversations, the poll found.

It also showed that while most parents of four to 11-year-olds still read with their child (87%) around one in eight (13%) have stopped.

Diana Gerald, BookTrust chief executive, said: “Sharing a book is about so much more than simply reading a story together. It creates a wonderful closeness, and it’s also an opportunity to talk about the themes in the book, whether that’s separation anxiety, making friends, losing someone important or simply learning to be brave.

“It’s so easy to stop the bedtime story or other shared reading once children can read for themselves, but that magical 10 minutes doesn’t just help engage children in stories and reading; it also relaxes them, helps them understand the world around them, and often stimulates important conversations about what’s going on in their lives.”

Catherine Roche, chief executive of the Place2Be charity, said: “We know from our experience that reading with your child in a warm, non-judgmental manner can be an excellent way to open up conversations about emotions, feelings and behaviours and help children to feel less alone.

“As a parent it can sometimes be hard to have these conversations but using characters in books, and the situations they experience, can help start a dialogue. Reading together can help you spot worries and anxieties before they are magnified.”

– The Censuswide poll questioned 3,003 parent of children aged four to 11 between August 15-23.