Stress is an unavoidable part of life. While typically associated with adults navigating their complex daily routines, stress is not exclusive to us. Children, too, encounter various forms of stress, although their stressors are often significantly different from those of their parents and other adults.

Stress in children can be triggered by an array of factors. These can range from academic pressures, peer relationships, family dynamics, to major life changes like moving homes or schools. Just like adults, children respond to stress in different ways and it's important to recognize that their reactions can manifest physically, emotionally, and behaviorally.

Although stress is a normal response to challenging situations, it becomes concerning when it is continuous and unmanaged. In children, chronic stress can lead to a whole host of problems including anxiety, depression, behavioral issues, and even physical illnesses like headaches and stomachaches. It can negatively impact their academic performance, social relationships, and overall wellbeing.

However, the good news is that stress can be managed and children can be taught how to cope with it effectively. As a parent or caregiver, understanding and helping children manage stress is not just necessary but can be empowering for the child. By equipping children with the right stress management techniques, we can help them navigate their world in a healthier and more resilient way, laying a strong foundation for their adult lives. The following sections of this article will shed light on simple yet effective steps parents can follow to assist their children in coping with stress.

5 Simple Steps to Help Your Child Cope with Stress

Talk to your child about their stressors

Mother, daughter, and son sitting on a bench outdoors with son looking up at mother while they talk
Photo by Benjamin Manley / Unsplash

One of the most significant things you can do to help your child manage their stress is simply to maintain a line of open and honest communication. As a parent, creating a supportive environment where your child feels comfortable expressing their feelings and concerns really can't be stressed enough.

Begin by acknowledging that their stress is real and valid, no matter what might be causing it. From daunting school projects to conflicts with friends, what may seem trivial to an adult can be overwhelming for a child. By respecting your child's feelings, you are validating their experiences and setting the foundation for open dialogue, which has long-lasting benefits.

To understand your child's stressors, you need to encourage them to express their worries. Start by asking open-ended questions about their day and their experiences. Phrases like, "How did that make you feel?" or "What was the best and/or hardest part of your day?" can provide you with insights into your child's emotions.

When they do open up about their feelings, make sure to listen actively. This means avoiding distractions, making eye contact, and responding in a way that shows you understand and empathize with their feelings. Avoid immediately jumping into problem-solving mode or dismissing their concerns; instead, let them know that you're there for support. This can definitely take some practice to get better at, especially since many parents have spent years learning how to "fix" their children's problems as quickly as possible, and that's ok. Just remind yourself that the purpose of the conversation is to let them know that you understand and you care.

Helping your child identify their sources of stress is a vital part of the process. Once these stressors are recognized, you can begin to work together to find strategies and solutions to manage them. This is an important skill that will not only help them in the present but also prepare them for the future challenges they might face.

Communication is a two-way street, and patience is key to making your child feel heard, understood, and equipped to handle their stress effectively.

Help your child develop coping mechanisms

Helping your child develop effective coping mechanisms for stress is essential in promoting their overall wellbeing. One way to do this is by teaching them relaxation techniques that can help soothe their mind and body.

Deep Breathing

neon sign says "and breathe" with a background of plants growing on a wall
Photo by Max van den Oetelaar / Unsplash

Deep breathing is a simple yet powerful technique that can reduce stress and promote relaxation. It works by counteracting some of the effects of the stress response, which include increased heart rate and blood pressure. To practice deep breathing, instruct your child to take a slow, deep breath in through their nose, hold it for a moment, and then slowly exhale through their mouth. Encourage them to imagine they are blowing out their stress or worry with each exhale. Practice this with them until they get the hang of it and remind them to use this technique whenever they are feeling stressed.

Here's a short video from Sunnybrook Hospital on box breathing- how to do it and why to practice it.


A young child is sitting and doing yoga in the sunshine outside
Photo by Sandeep Kr Yadav / Unsplash

Yoga is another great tool for stress management. It combines physical poses with deep breathing and meditation, promoting a sense of calm and relaxation. Yoga for children can be just as fun as it is useful, incorporating animal poses and imaginative scenarios. There are plenty of resources online, including video tutorials specifically designed for kids. Remember, the goal is not to perfect the poses but to enjoy the process and find relaxation.

Not sure you can convice your child to try yoga? How about enticing them with this exciting Minecraft themed 20 minute yoga session:

Here's a longer but super fun video by Cosmic Kids Yoga to help children reduce anxiety and feel calmer:

Besides relaxation techniques, encouraging a lifestyle that supports physical health can also aid stress management.

Regular Exercise

Kids having Fun on the beach in summer
Photo by Deb Dowd / Unsplash

Regular physical activity is known to reduce stress levels and boost mood due to the release of endorphins, often referred to as 'feel-good' hormones. This doesn't necessarily mean rigorous workouts; even activities like biking, dancing, or playing a sport can be beneficial. Find an activity that your child enjoys and encourage them to participate regularly.

Healthy Sleep Schedule

Child asleep on bed in grey pajamas
Photo by Annie Spratt / Unsplash

Sleep is a critical part of stress management for kids and adults alike. When children are sleep-deprived, they can have difficulty regulating their emotions, leading to increased stress and anxiety. Aim to establish a consistent sleep schedule with a fixed bedtime and wake-up time. Make sure the environment is conducive to sleep, quiet, dark, and cool. Also, encourage habits like reading a book before bed instead of using electronic devices, which can interfere with sleep.

These are skills that will take time for your child to master. Be patient, supportive, and encourage them to incorporate these strategies into their daily routine. Over time, they can serve as powerful tools in your child's stress management arsenal.

Create a calm and relaxing environment at home

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Photo by Anastasiia Chepinska / Unsplash

The environment in which your child spends their time can greatly influence their stress levels. A home that exudes calmness and serenity can serve as a sanctuary for your child, helping them relax and manage stress better.

Calming Music

Playing calming music can be a simple yet effective way to create a tranquil environment. Certain genres, like classical, instrumental, or nature sounds, can help to reduce stress levels, soothe the mind, and promote relaxation. Consider creating a playlist of your child's favorite calming tracks and playing it softly in the background, especially during times of relaxation or just before bed.

Watching ocean scenes is popular in our home, so putting on calming music tracks like this one by 4K Ocean World is often welcomed by our kids:

Essential Oils

Aromatherapy hand putting essential oils into a white diffusor with a blurry indoor background
Photo by Drew L / Unsplash

Aromatherapy, or the use of essential oils, has been associated with reduced stress and anxiety. Oils such as lavender, chamomile, or ylang-ylang are known for their calming properties. Using a diffuser to spread the scent throughout the home can create a sense of calm. However, it's important to use essential oils responsibly and safely, especially around young children. Make sure they are not ingested or applied directly onto the skin without being diluted. It's best to keep them out of reach of little hands.

Dimming the Lights

dimmly lit lantern on a dark table with a blurry background
Photo by Rafael Garcin / Unsplash

The level of lighting can significantly impact the overall atmosphere of a space. Bright lights can sometimes be stimulating, while softer, dimmer lights can contribute to a relaxed environment. As the day draws to a close, consider dimming the lights to signal the transition from day to night, helping your child wind down and prepare for sleep.

Each child is unique, and what works for one may not necessarily work for another. Experiment with different techniques and find what suits your child best. Cultivating a calm and relaxing environment at home can provide your child with a safe space to retreat, unwind, and manage their stress more effectively.

Encourage your child to spend time with friends and family

Scrabble letters spell out friends on a table with toys, books, crayons, and legos surrounding it For more photos please visit: hannahrodrigo.tumblr.cominstagram: @hannahrodrigotwitter: @hannah_rodrigo
Photo by Hannah Rodrigo / Unsplash

Social interactions play a significant role in your child's development and can influence their ability to cope with stress. Spending time with friends and family can provide emotional support, improve mood, and offer a sense of belonging and acceptance.

Time with Friends

Definition of summer
Photo by Andrew Seaman / Unsplash

Encourage your child to spend time with their friends. This could include playdates, participating in group activities, or simply chatting online, depending on the age and interests of your child. Friendships can provide a sense of belonging, boost self-esteem, and serve as an outlet for sharing experiences and feelings. Healthy friendships also offer opportunities to develop key social and emotional skills, like empathy and cooperation.

Family Time

Family Playing Board Game. An African-American family (adult male and female and two male children) sit around a coffee table playing a board game.  Photographer Bill Branson
Photo by National Cancer Institute / Unsplash

Quality time with family can also help to reduce stress and promote feelings of security and love. Regular family meals, game nights, walks, or even daily rituals like reading a bedtime story or singing lullaby's can provide opportunities for your child to connect, share their day, and feel the warmth of familial bonds.

Remember, it's not just about the quantity of time spent together, but the quality of these interactions. During these times, aim to create a positive and supportive atmosphere where your child feels comfortable expressing themselves. Listen to their experiences, show interest in their activities, and offer guidance when needed.

Moreover, keep an eye on your child's social interactions. If you notice any signs of toxic relationships or bullying, it's important to address these issues promptly to protect your child's mental well-being.

By encouraging positive social interactions, you can help your child develop resilience, manage stress effectively, and foster healthy relationships that can last a lifetime.

Seek professional help if needed

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Photo by Austin Chan / Unsplash

While it's natural for children to experience stress from time to time, if you notice that your child's stress seems persistent, is causing significant distress, or interfering with their daily functioning, it may be time to consider professional help.

Professionals like child psychologists, therapists, or counselors are trained to understand and navigate the complexities of childhood stress and anxiety. They can provide your child with tailored strategies and tools to manage stress more effectively. Moreover, they can help identify any underlying issues that may be contributing to your child's stress, such as learning difficulties, mental health conditions, or experiences like bullying.

When considering professional help, it's important to involve your child in the process as much as possible. Explain to them why you believe it might be beneficial, what they can expect, and reassure them that seeking help is not a sign of weakness but a step towards feeling better.

Finding the right professional can sometimes take time, so it's essential to be patient and persistent. Your child's school counselor or pediatrician can be a good starting point for finding the appropriate resources and referrals.

Seeking professional help is a sign of strength. It demonstrates your commitment to your child's well-being and shows your child that it's okay to ask for help when needed. It's an important step that could make a significant difference in helping your child manage their stress and navigate their feelings more effectively.

In Conclusion

Stress is a normal part of life, even for children. However, when left unchecked, it can negatively affect their mental and physical health, academic performance, and overall happiness. As parents and caregivers, it's our responsibility to help our children identify their stressors and equip them with effective coping strategies.

From promoting open communication and teaching stress management techniques, to creating a calm environment at home, encouraging positive social interactions, and seeking professional help when needed, there are many different ways we can support our children in navigating their stress.

It's essential to remember that stress management is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Each child is unique, and what works for one may not necessarily work for another. It's a journey of patience, understanding, and consistent effort. The steps provided in this article are meant to be a starting point in this journey.

For parents seeking additional information on child stress and coping mechanisms, here are some resources:

  1. The American Psychological Association: Offers a range of resources on psychological issues affecting people of all ages, including children and stress.
  2. The American Academy of Pediatrics: Provides resources for parents on all aspects of child health, including emotional wellness.
  3. Child Mind Institute: An online hub of resources on child mental health, including detailed articles on stress and anxiety in children.
  4. KidsHealth from Nemours: Offers advice for parents, kids, and teens on physical and emotional health issues, including stress.

The goal is not to eliminate stress entirely, but to teach your child how to manage it effectively. By doing so, we can help them build resilience, equipping them to handle not just their current stressors, but also those they may encounter in their adult lives.

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Questions and Answers

What are the signs of stress in children?

Signs of stress in children can manifest in various ways including behavioral, physical, and emotional changes.

Behavioral changes may include increased irritability, difficulty sleeping, withdrawal from social activities, or sudden changes in academic performance.

Physical symptoms of stress can manifest as recurrent headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, or unexplained aches and pains.

Emotionally, a stressed child might exhibit persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, or mood swings.

It's crucial for parents and caregivers to stay observant for these signs, as children may not always verbalize their feelings of stress directly.

How much screen time is too much for kids?

Screen time recommendations can vary by age and should be balanced with other healthy behaviors. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children under the age of two should ideally have no screen time, aside from video-chatting. 

For children over two, the AAP recommends limiting screen time to no more than two hours per day. However, not all screen time is created equal and it's important for caregivers to ensure that the content is high-quality and age-appropriate. Above all, physical activity, proper sleep, and other activities crucial for a child's development should not be displaced by excessive screen time.

While guidelines for screen time can serve as a useful tool, it's crucial to understand that each family's dynamics and requirements are unique. In the reality of day-to-day parenting, sometimes screen time can provide much-needed respite for parents and caregivers.

Whether it's to keep your child occupied while you're in a work meeting, making dinner, or just need a few moments of calm, screen time can be a practical solution. It's important to remember that these moments do not make you a bad parent and, in moderation, won't harm your child.

What are some healthy ways for kids to express their emotions?

Talking to a Trusted Adult

One of the simplest and most effective ways for children to express their emotions is by talking to a trusted adult, such as a parent, caregiver, teacher, or counselor. This provides them an opportunity to verbalize their feelings and receive validation and guidance.

Writing in a Journal

Journaling can be a powerful tool for children to articulate their thoughts and feelings. It provides a private space for self-reflection and emotional exploration.

Drawing or Painting

Artistic activities like drawing or painting can serve as a non-verbal medium for children to express their emotions creatively. Art can often capture feelings that words may not fully convey.

Physical Activities

Physical activities like sports, dance, or even just playing in the park can be a great outlet for emotional expression. These activities can help children channel their emotions, reduce stress, and boost their mood.

Each child is unique and may resonate with different modes of emotional expression. The key is to provide them with a safe, supportive space and encourage them to explore various ways of expressing their feelings.