When kids pack their satchels and go back to school, there can be a little fear in the air.

Children react differently to stress than adults, so you may notice that your little one is more irritable, has a few more tantrums, is bed-wetting, has trouble concentrating, or has more abdominal pain, poor sleep, or dizziness.

Stress triggers a release of adrenaline and cortisol for the adrenal glands.

This is nature’s built-in alarm system that tells us something is wrong and it is time to flee or start a fight – our sympathetic nervous system response to fight or flight.

Understanding this can help you understand why your child may be more argumentative, irritable, or aggressive.

It’s a natural response to fear.

When fear becomes a problem, that fight-or-flight response doesn’t shut itself down properly, so adrenaline and cortisol levels stay high and fear lingers.

We can naturally reduce the stress response through exercise – literally running away from danger.

Kicking a soccer ball in the park, going on a bike ride, or climbing a tree will help reduce the natural surge in stress hormones and lower the stress response to manageable levels.

Yoga and mindfulness have proven to be very effective ways for children to manage anxiety. Simple breathing exercises or age-appropriate guided meditations are great.

Check out relaxkids.com or headspace.com/meditation/kids for ideas.

When it comes to diet and nutrition, there are a few things you can do to help your child manage anxiety and stress.

  • A good breakfast with some protein and healthy fats can help support blood sugar levels, balance stress hormones, and help focus at school. Your child will get off to a good start with eggs or bacon on toast, porridge or Weetabix with milk or peanut butter and banana on toast.
  • Sugar is a big driver of adrenaline and cortisol and can contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety. Doing things with children gradually is always a good idea, so I suggest finding out where sugar is in their diet and going for the simplest swaps first. For example, check the sugar content of your child’s favorite snack or treat during the break and swap it for an alternative that is slightly lower in sugar. Swapping Jaffa cakes for digestive cookies or choosing a low-sugar yogurt would be a good place to start. The important thing is not to over-restrict any foods in their diet as it is important for them to enjoy a wide range of foods and avoid too many restrictions as this can create problems with their relationship with food.
  • We know there is a great gut-brain connection, so feeding your child the healthy gut bacteria is a great thing to support their mental health. Fermented foods do wonders for the balance of your child’s microbiome. Start with live or organic yogurts, try some kefir (tastes like yogurt) or kombucha (tastes like soda). Get your child to choose their favorite flavors and they will be more likely to try them out.
  • Sit down and eat together. Take the time to share meals with your tribe. This can be a valuable time to talk about the day’s events and have fun together and set a good example of healthy habits for your child. Sitting down to eat as a family is also associated with increased self-esteem and academic performance.
  • Help your little one sleep well. Magnesium supplementation before bed could be beneficial. I like Higher Nature’s Relax and Unwind as it tastes like berries and has some other nutrients like theanine and calcium that have calming properties to aid restful sleep and reduce anxiety.

If you have any concerns about your child’s mental health or stress levels, speak to your GP.