What Are The Signs Of Stress for Introverted Children? An Expert Explains

Licensed marriage family therapist By Jennie Marie Battistin, MA, LMFT
Licensed marriage family therapist
Jennie Marie Battistin, MA, LMFT is a licensed marriage family therapist, author, and The founding director of Hope Therapy Center Inc. Marriage and Family Counseling of Burbank, CA and Santa Clarita, CA.

Image by Victor Torres / Stocksy

Different kids have different needs and different ways of communicating those needs. Some children are naturally expressive and will tell you, the parents, what they feel. Children who fall on the more introverted side of the personality spectrum might not tell you everything, especially so when it comes to moments of stress and discomfort. Children who are introverted may instead hide their problems from you. 

Of course, having an introverted child doesn't close off the possibility of communicating with them: Mindfulness techniques can make it possible for you to deepen your relationship with your child, improve communication them, and give them tools that can help them manage their stress.

Being that introverted children will tend not to express their feelings or their thoughts with more clarity, it is a good idea to be aware of some signs that your introverted child might be suffering from stress or emotional discomfort. There are physical and behavioral signs and signals that you can be aware of, especially if you have an introverted child who might be less communicative about their feelings. 

Physical symptoms may include:

1. Pains and physical discomfort

Sometimes otherwise healthy kids will show physical symptoms as a reaction to stress. For example, an introverted child might have complaints about stomach pain, headaches, or other types of physical pain that can't be explained even by a visit to the doctor. Sometimes symptoms might be specific, while in others a child may simply express that they feel sick, even if they can't explain what it is that they're feeling. In some cases, extremely introverted kids might internalize their worries and stress in such a way that it can produce physical discomfort in them.

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2. Bruxism, or grinding teeth

Bruxism, or grinding of the teeth during sleep, is a noticeable physical symptom of stress or anxiety in children. If you notice your child grinding their teeth while sleeping, this could be a possible sign that they are suffering some kind of emotional or psychological discomfort.

3. Problems sleeping

A child who is undergoing stress may have difficulties sleeping. This includes but is not limited to having trouble falling asleep, waking up frequently during the night, or having persistent nightmares that harm their sleep patterns and rest. 

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4. Bed-wetting

Sudden or recurring bed-wetting can be a sign of extreme stress in a child, especially when the child is old enough and knows to wake up and go to the bathroom.

Behavioral symptoms may include: 

Some symptoms that introverted children may demonstrate have to do with their behavior rather than their physical feelings. They are no less important and may indicate that your child is suffering from stress.

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1. Sudden changes in behavior

If your child is suddenly fearful of going to certain places or develops uncharacteristic clinginess or fears, it is a possible sign of stress. Another example could be if your child's interactions with other children or adults are suddenly different. For example, if a normally sociable child is suddenly antagonistic or fearful of social contact, this may be a sign of stressors.

2. Regressive behavior

Regressive behavior is when a child begins to exhibit patterns or behavior more characteristic of a younger child. One example might be an older child suddenly having tantrums that are more appropriate for a much younger child. Another possible sign could be a child all of a sudden becoming extremely clingy or needy with their parents, despite being normally independent. Sudden crying behavior or whining might be another. 

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So how can mindfulness help?

It is important to keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with a child being introverted. Simply stated, they have a different way of interacting with the world and others, and it is in no way a barrier to their success, development, and flourishing in life. It might, however, be frustrating for some parents to establish good communication with introverted kids. 

You might be wondering, how can I help my introverted child? Mindfulness is a tool that can be very effective for introverted children. Mindfulness is a philosophy and technique that can help both children and their parents improve communication mutually as well as handle stress and emotional discomfort. Research studies and reviews have so far demonstrated that mindfulness can be an effective technique for reducing symptoms of stress and anxiety in children: Among its benefits are better mood, increased attention and awareness, improved sleep, and better eating habits.

Helping your child tune in to their breathing is one of the easiest and most effective ways to teach them a skill to manage stress. My favorite mindfulness breathing technique is four square breathing. This technique involves inhaling through the nose for a count of four, holding one's breath for a count of four, exhaling through the mouth for a count of four, and then holding one's breath again for a count of four. Repeating four complete cycles of this breathing can positively help decrease anxiety and stress. Another great mindfulness technique for children and adults alike is the "Clear and Calm" exercise. In this exercise I encourage paying attention to one's breath. Breathe in with eyes open, and exhale closing one's eyes. Inhale and imagine a wave of calm and peace washing over the body, and then hold the state of calm. Exhale, breathing out stress and worries. Inhale, bring in confidence. Exhale, breathe out doubt/fear/worry. Breathe in positive feelings. Exhale negative feelings. Pair this breathwork with a positive affirmation such as "I choose to be calm and happy." 

As you learn to understand signs of stress in your introverted child, you can provide them with positive tools such as mindfulness to help them respond to stressors. At any time you see these signs increase, I encourage you to possibly considering talking to your child's pediatrician for a referral to a child therapist. Children often are responsive quickly in a therapeutic setting and need a few sessions to help them learn some positive coping skills and provide you with some tools to help reinforce them at home.

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