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Stress Management: Helping Your Child With Stress


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Childhood isn't all fun and games. Even young children can feel worried and stressed.

Stress can come from outside, such as family, friends, and school. It can also come from children themselves. Just like adults, children often expect too much of themselves and then feel stressed when they feel that they have failed.

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It is important to recognize stress in children and teens and help them find healthy coping strategies. The strategies they learn often stay with them into adulthood.

Generally, anything that may cause children fear and anxiety can cause stress. This can include being away from home, starting a new school or moving to a new location, being separated from parents or caregivers, worrying about school and getting along with others, worrying about their changing bodies, and worrying about the future.

The following are some common signs of stress in different age groups.

Signs of stress in children and teens

Preschool and toddlers

Elementary-age children

Preteens and teens

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Eating and sleeping problems, including nightmares
  • Fear of being alone
  • Being cranky
  • Going back to infant behaviors
  • Trembling with fright
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Withdrawal
  • Being distrustful
  • Complaining of headaches or stomachaches
  • Feeling unloved
  • Having no appetite
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Needing to urinate frequently
  • Not caring about school or friendship
  • Acting withdrawn
  • Worrying about the future
  • Anger
  • Disappointment with life
  • Distrust of the world
  • Low self-esteem
  • Stomachaches and headaches
  • Rebellion

Test Your Knowledge

I don't have to worry about my child feeling stress except in extreme situations.

True
False

Some stress is normal and even useful. Stress can help your child if he or she needs to work hard or react quickly. For example, it can help your child win a race or finish important homework on time.

But if stress happens too often or lasts too long, it can have bad effects. It can be linked to headaches, an upset stomach, back pain, and trouble sleeping. It can weaken your child's immune system, making it harder to fight off disease. If your child already has a health problem, stress may make it worse. It can make your child moody, tense, or depressed. He or she may not do well at school.

Learning how to deal with stress is an important part of growing up. You can't keep your children from feeling stressed, but you can teach them what to do when stressful situations occur.

Test Your Knowledge

Too much stress can actually make my child sick.

True
False

Adults can help children and teens with stress in many ways. Three important things you can do are to:

  • Try to reduce the amount of stress in your lives.
  • Help them build positive coping skills.
  • Teach them to let stress out.

Reduce the amount of stress in your lives

  • Acknowledge your child's feelings. When children seem sad or scared, for example, tell them you notice they are sad or scared.
  • Develop trust, and let your child know that mistakes are learning experiences.
  • Be supportive, and praise your child.
  • Show love, warmth, and care. Hug your child often.
  • Have clear expectations without being too strict. Let your child know that cooperation is more important than competition.
  • Don't over-schedule your child into too many activities.
  • Be aware of what your child wants (not just what you want).

Build positive coping skills

It is important to help children learn positive coping skills. These skills are often carried into adult life.

  • Provide a good example. Keep calm, and control your anger. Think through plans to decrease stress, and share them with the family.
  • Teach them about consequences. Children need to learn about the consequences—good and bad—of their actions. For example, if they do all of their chores on time, they will get their allowance. If they break another child's toy, they must find a way to replace it.
  • Encourage rational thinking. Help your children understand what is fantasy and what is reality. For example, help them see that their behavior did not cause a divorce, or that they are not failures because they were not picked first for something.
  • Provide them with some control. Allow your children to make choices within your family framework. For example, allow them to arrange their rooms, choose family activities, and help make family decisions.
  • Encourage them to eat healthy foods, and emphasize the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

Get the stress out

Finding ways to get stress out of their systems will help children feel better. The best ways to relieve stress are different for each person. Try some of these ideas to see which ones work for your child:

  • Exercise. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress. For children, this means activities like walking, bike-riding, outdoor play, and individual and group sports.
  • Write or draw. Older children often find it helpful to write about the things that are bothering them. Younger children may be helped by drawing about those things.
  • Let feelings out. Invite your child to talk, laugh, cry, and express anger when he or she needs to.
  • Do something fun. A hobby can help your child relax. Volunteer work or work that helps others can be a great stress reliever for older children.
  • Learn ways to relax. This can include breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises, massage, aromatherapy, yoga, or relaxing exercises like tai chi and qi gong.
    Click here to view an Actionset.Stress Management: Relaxing Your Mind and Body
  • Laugh. Laughter really can be the best medicine. You can be a good role model in this area by looking for the humor in life. Your child can learn this valuable skill by watching you.

Test Your Knowledge

If my child is feeling stressed, then he or she should avoid exercise.

True
False

Now that you have read this information, you are ready to help your child with stress.

Talk to your doctor

If you have questions about this information, print it out and take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to mark areas or make notes in the margins where you have questions.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerSusan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical ReviewerCatherine D. Serio, PhD - Behavioral Health
Last RevisedDecember 9, 2011

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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