GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Many area kids are back in school following holiday break, but that could mean higher stress levels both inside and outside of the classroom.
Liz Sharda's daughter is like any other youngster who loves candy but also has a page of homework night after night. Sharda, a social worker but also a full-time student, foster parent and mom, may know a thing or two about stress.
"My kindergartner is in school from 9 a.m until after 4 p.m., so she’s toast when she gets home," she said. She may be tired from school, but her mom says the added responsibility of homework seems to be going well.
"She manages pretty well," Sharda continued.
Sharda is not the only one feeling the pressure of balancing the stresses of life.
"We’re starting to see kids as young as six or seven, sometimes even younger than that, that are reporting increased stress levels," says Dr. Brittany Barber Garcia, PhD., a pediatric psychologist at Spectrum Health .
Dr. Garcia said she sees 20 to 25 patients a week who are dealing with chronic pain due to stress. "I think we're seeing it creep up on us a little bit," she added.
The New York Times reports that a study surveyed 2,100 high school students, and more than half reported severe symptoms of depression due to stress.
Experts said when it comes to elementary aged kids, doctors are more likely to see patients suffering from migraine headaches, ulcers and abdominal pain.
As more kids are feeling the added pressure to do well in school, it's also putting their health at risk.
"Stressed bodies can be more susceptible to more chronic health problems as well," notes Garcia.
Kids are getting pushed into a busy lifestyle at a younger and younger age. "I think younger kids are starting to hear that message that if you’re successful now, it will help you build success for the future," said Garcia.
But Liz Sharda says that message might be a good thing.
"I think a lot of that comes from a good place of wanting our kids to have experiences that maybe we didn’t experience, that maybe we didn’t have, experiences we think would be good for them," Sharda said.
It's not just homework that contributes to stress build up: things like dance class, sports and music lessons may overload a kid.
Sharda stresses the importance of spending time with your kids to help ease the tension. "I think it comes down to the relationship you have with your kids."
In fact, this busy mom can't press that issue enough.
"Time with your kids is the most important thing."
If you would like to connect with Garcia at Spectrum Health, call her office at 616-267-2830. Your child's pediatrician is also able to write a referral.