Monday, 15th July 2024

Monday, 15th July 2024

Watching for Signs of Distress in Children

04 May 2017

When our children are going through distress, they send out warning signs through their behaviour, but do we know what to watch for? Are we catching the signals for help being sent out?

Being familiar with these distress signs will help us identify problems early. If these signs are present in combination, or in more extreme or long-lasting forms, it may be an indication that your child is experiencing significant distress. If in doubt, please seek help and advice from your child’s School Counsellor or mental health professionals. If you suspect your child is at risk of suicide, get help immediately from SOS 1800 221 4444.  

Also, find out more about how parents can talk about issues related to anxiety, distress and suicide




Displaying out-of character behaviour

  • Becoming quieter or more talkative than usual
  • Giving away possessions
  • Saying goodbye to loved ones
  • Behaving strangely
  • Talking and/or writing about things that do not make sense (including online behaviour)
  • Complaints of unexplained pains


Injuries that are unexplained

  • Bruises, burns, cuts or scars on bodies
  • Tendency to hurt self


Sudden changes in appearance, interests or habits

  • Neglecting personal appearance and/or well-being
  • Unkempt appearance
  • Poor hygiene
  • Sleeping or eating too little or too much
  • Sudden loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities
  • Sudden loss of interest in studies


Temperamental changes

  • Becoming more irritable, agitated, moody, stressed or anxious than usual
  • Expressions of worry, anxiety and/or fear


Rebellious/ aggressive behaviour

  • Display of defiant behaviour
  • Unaccountable rage, anger and/or aggression
  • Overly irritable or hostile
  • Excessive smoking and/or drinking
  • Drug abuse


    Extended absence/ deliberate social withdrawal

    • Unexplained and repeated absence or truancy
    • Declining to join social activities
    • Becoming withdrawn and avoiding others
    • Having a lack of social contact


    Struggling to pay attention/ increased

    • Inattentiveness
    • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions


    Sending/ posting moody or morbid messages (including expressions of death)

    • Expressing frequent negative and/or illogical thoughts
    • Expressing feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness, and/or perceived loss of control
    • Threatening or expressing plans to hurt or kill themselves