Stress in children

In children stress can occur in any situation that forces a child to adapt or change. Stress can be triggered by positive changes, such as starting a new activity, but it is more often linked to negative changes, such as illness or death in the family.

You can help your child by learning to recognize the signs of stress and teaching healthy ways to deal with it.

Stress can be a response to a negative change in a child’s life. In small amounts, stress can be good. But too much stress can affect the way a child thinks, acts and feels. 

Children learn to react to stress as they grow and develop. Many stressful situations manageable for an adult cause stress for a child. Therefore, even small changes can impact a child’s sense of security and confidence. 

Pain, injury, illness and other changes are sources of stress for children. Causes of stress can include:

Worrying about homework or grades

Managing responsibilities like school and work or sports

Problems with friends, bullying or peer pressure

Changing schools, moving, coping with housing problems

Body changes in both boys and girls

Divorce or separation from parents

Financial crisis at home

Living in an unsafe neighborhood or home



Children may not realize that they are stressed. If symptoms worsen or new symptoms appear, parents may suspect an increase in the child’s stress level. 

Physical symptoms include:

Decreased appetite and other changes in eating habits




Sleep disturbances

Stomach aches or stomach pains

Other physical symptoms without any physical illness

Emotional or behavioral symptoms may include:

Anxiety or worry

Inability to relax

New or recurring fears (fear of the dark, of being alone or of strangers)

Parental inseparability

Rage, crying or whining

Inability to control emotions

Aggressive or stubborn

behavior Regression to behaviors typical of previous stages

Reluctance to participate in family or school activities



Parents can help their children respond to stress in healthy ways. Here are some tips:

Provide the child with a healthy, safe and reliable home.

Routine at home can be comforting. Having a family dinner or movie night can help prevent or relieve stress.

Always set a good example. The child will see you as a model of healthy behavior. Do your best to control your own stress and always manage it in a healthy way.

Be selective about what TV shows, books, and games kids watch, read, and play. Violent images and programs or games can cause fear and anxiety.

Keep your child informed of anticipated changes such as a change of job or a move.

Provide your children with quiet leisure time.

Learn to listen. Listen to the child without criticizing or trying to solve the problem right away. Instead, work with your child trying to figure out and resolve what’s bothering them. 

Strengthen the child’s feelings of self-esteem. Use stimulation and affection. Use rewards rather than punishments. Try to involve him in situations where he can succeed.

Give her opportunities to make choices and have some control over her life. The more a child feels in control of a situation, the better their reaction to stress will be.

Encourage physical activity.

Recognize signs of unresolved stress in children.

Seek help or advice from a medical professional, counselor or therapist when signs of stress do not lessen or go away normally.



Talk to your family doctor if your child:

Is withdrawn, unhappy or depressed

Has difficulty at school or interacting with friends and family

Is unable to control his or her behavior or anger