Four Herbs for Supporting a Healthy Stress Response in Kids and Teens*
By Dr. Mary Bove
Many of us look back on our childhoods with sweet nostalgia, remembering the carefree days of playing on the jungle gym, eating popsicles, and splashing around in the pool. Thinking that stress is something reserved for adults, we forget how hard it can be to be a kid. But the truth is, children and teens can also occasionally feel the effects of stress.
Kids of all ages undergo rapid physical, mental and social growth, and that continual cycle of change can be taxing. They can also act as sponges for their parents’ financial, work, or relationship issues. Add to that the competitive quality of today’s academic and athletic environment, and you’ve got a recipe for a lot of kids feeling nervous and uneasy.
Kids under stress are more likely to suffer negative mood, have difficulty with self-regulation and attention, experience disturbed sleep, and engage in risk-taking behaviors.
To effectively support a healthy response to occasional stress in children and teens, it’s critical to address the underlying causes. However, herbal supplements can also play a role. Following are four of my favorite stress-busting herbs for kids. All of them have the ability to calm and relax, but each one also has benefits unique to that plant.
Excellent for: inattention & fidgeting
A member of the mint family, lemon balm is a wonderful support for the nervous system, providing a sense of balance and allowing for deeper focus and concentration.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that lemon balm improved mood and increased calmness. Other clinical studies have found it positively impacts cognitive function and diminishes nervousness. Lemon balm is one of the few herbs that has been studied in children, with good effects — especially among little ones with restlessness and occasional trouble sleeping.
Excellent for: trouble sleeping
Mayan healers recognized passionflower’s special usefulness in children, and traditionally employed the herb to support restful sleep, calm emotional reactivity and ease muscle twitching in kids. Today, herbalists frequently recommend passion flower as a first defense against nervousness and difficulty sleeping in teenagers.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study has confirmed that passion flower improves sleep quality in young adults.* Another double-blind human study suggests it’s effective at reducing feelings of nervousness and tension.*
Excellent for: mental & physical tension
Like lemon balm, American skullcap is another member of the mint family. It hasn’t been widely studied, but it’s considered a tonic to the nervous system and traditionally used to alleviate mental and physical tension.
Modern herbalists also recommend the herb for alleviating nervousness, agitation and restlessness, for calming kids who are wound up, and for promoting healthy sleep. It’s considered particularly useful for alleviating nervous fear associated with test taking, bad dreams and other stressors.
Excellent for: crankiness & restlessness
In the classic children’s story Peter Rabbit, the young bunny’s mother gave him a dose of chamomile after his adventure in the garden. Indeed, this herb has always been thought of as calming herb for the young. Chamomile has traditionally been used to pacify a restless child, settle an upset stomach, and soothe itchy skin.
Clinical studies have shown that chamomile supports deep, restful sleep, and when inhaled, the essential oil can promote a positive outlook. The mildest of the four herbs, chamomile is the best choice for very young children.
It’s important to remember that children of all ages feel the effects of occasional stress in their ever-changing bodies, minds and environments. Fortunately, herbal supplements offer several options to calm the nervous system and aid in managing the symptoms of stress, whether they are physical (like restlessness, fidgeting, muscle twitching and trouble sleeping) or mental (such as nervousness, worry, agitation and negative mood).
Choosing the right herb, or combination of herbs, can greatly reduce the effects of occasional stress and improve the overall quality of life of your child or teen.