As providers and caretakers, adults tend to view the world of children as happy and carefree. After all, kids don't have jobs to keep or bills to pay, so what could they possibly have to worry about?
Plenty! Even very young children have worries and feel stress to some degree.
Stress is a function of the demands placed on us and our ability to meet them. These demands often come from outside sources, such as family, jobs, friends, or school. But it also can come from within, often related to what we think we should be doing versus what we're actually able to do.
So stress can affect anyone who feels overwhelmed — even kids. In preschoolers, separation from parents can cause anxiety. As kids get older, academic and social pressures (especially from trying to fit in) create stress.
Many kids are too busy to have time to play creatively or relax after school. Kids who complain about all their activities or who refuse to go to them might be overscheduled. Talk with your kids about how they feel about extracurricular activities. If they complain, discuss the pros and cons of stopping one activity. If stopping isn't an option, explore ways to help manage your child's time and responsibilities to lessen the anxiety.
Kids' stress may be intensified by more than just what's happening in their own lives. Do your kids hear you talking about troubles at work, worrying about a relative's illness, or arguing with your spouse about financial matters? Parents should watch how they discuss such issues when their kids are near because children will pick up on their parents' anxieties and start to worry themselves.
World news can cause stress. Kids who see disturbing images on TV or hear talk of natural disasters, war, and terrorism may worry about their own safety and that of the people they love. Talk to your kids about what they see and hear, and monitor what they watch on TV so that you can help them understand what's going on.
Also, be aware of complicating factors, such as an illness, death of a loved one, or a divorce. When these are added to the everyday pressures kids face, the stress is magnified. Even the most amicable divorce can be tough for kids because their basic security system — their family — is undergoing a big change. Separated or divorced parents should never put kids in a position of having to choose sides or expose them to negative comments about the other spouse.
Also realize that some things that aren't a big deal to adults can cause significant stress for kids. Let your kids know that you understand they're stressed and don't dismiss their feelings as inappropriate.
While it's not always easy to recognize when kids are stressed out, short-term behavioral changes — such as mood swings, acting out, changes in sleep patterns, or bedwetting — can be indications. Some kids have physical effects, including stomachaches and headaches. Others have trouble concentrating or completing schoolwork. Still others become withdrawn or spend a lot of time alone.
Younger children may pick up new habits like thumb sucking, hair twirling, or nose picking; older kids may begin to lie, bully, or defy authority. A child who is stressed also may overreact to minor problems, have nightmares, become clingy, or have drastic changes in academic performance.
How can you help kids cope with stress? Proper rest and good nutrition can boost coping skills, as can good parenting. Make time for your kids each day. Whether they need to talk or just be in the same room with you, make yourself available. Don't try to make them talk, even if you know what they're worried about. Sometimes kids just feel better when you spend time with them on fun activities.
Even as kids get older, quality time is important. It's really hard for some people to come home after work, get down on the floor, and play with their kids or just talk to them about their day — especially if they've had a stressful day themselves. But expressing interest shows your kids that they're important to you.
Help your child cope with stress by talking about what may be causing it. Together, you can come up with a few solutions like cutting back on after-school activities, spending more time talking with parents or teachers, developing an exercise regimen, or keeping a journal.
You also can help by anticipating potentially stressful situations and preparing kids for them. For example, let your son or daughter know ahead of time that a doctor's appointment is coming up and talk about what will happen there. Tailor the information to your child's age — younger kids won't need as much advance preparation or details as older kids or teens.
Remember that some level of stress is normal; let your kids know that it's OK to feel angry, scared, lonely, or anxious and that other people share those feelings. Reassurance is important, so remind them that you're confident that they can handle the situation.
When kids can't or won't discuss their stressful issues, try talking about your own. This shows that you're willing to tackle tough topics and are available to talk with when they're ready. If a child shows symptoms that concern you and is unwilling to talk, consult a therapist or other mental health specialist.
Books can help young kids identify with characters in stressful situations and learn how they cope. Check out Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst; Tear Soup by Pat Schweibert, Chuck DeKlyen, and Taylor Bills; and Dinosaurs Divorce by Marc Brown and Laurene Krasny Brown.
Most parents have the skills to deal with their child's stress. The time to seek professional attention is when any change in behavior persists, when stress is causing serious anxiety, or when the behavior causes significant problems at school or at home.
If you need help finding resources for your child, consult your doctor or the counselors and teachers at school.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: February 2015
|American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) AACAP offers up-to-date information on child and adolescent development and issues.|
|Divorce Online Divorce Online is for people involved in, or facing the prospect of, divorce.|
|American Psychological Association (APA) The APA provides information and education about a variety of mental health issues for people of all ages.|
|Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) The ADAA promotes the prevention and cure of anxiety disorders and works to improve the lives of all people who have them.|
|Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation (OCF) OCF educates the public and professional communities about OCD and related disorders, provides assistance to families, and supports research of the causes and effective treatments of these disorders.|
|Five Steps for Fighting Stress Everybody gets stressed from time to time. This article for kids has some tips for you to try the next time you're stressed.|
|Anxiety Disorders Anxiety is a natural part of life, and most of us experience it from time to time. But for some people, anxiety can be extreme.|
|Taking the Pressure Off Sports Competition Sometimes sports competition can make kids feel pressure. If it's too much, a kid might not have as much fun as before. Find out what to do if this happens to you.|
|Tips for Divorcing Parents No guide can guarantee a way to steer kids unscathed through a divorce. Every situation - and every family - is different. But these commonsense guidelines might make the adjustment a bit easier.|
|Can Stress Affect My Weight? Find out what the experts have to say!|
|Separation Anxiety Teary and tantrum-filled goodbyes are common with separation anxiety, which is a perfectly normal part of childhood development.|
|Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder All kids have worries and doubts. But some have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in which their worries compel them to behave in certain ways over and over again.|
|What Stresses You Out About School? Find out what our readers said about how they handle back-to-school worries.|
|Relax & Unwind Center When life throws problems your way, learn how to stay calm, de-stress, and solve problems.|
|Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Someone might say you're obsessed with soccer or something else that you really like, but when someone has a true obsession, it isn't any fun. Find out more about obsessive-compulsive disorder in this article for kids.|
|Teens Talk About Stress (Video) In this video, teens talk about what stresses them out and how they cope.|
|5 Ways to Deal With Anxiety We all get worried or nervous about things. Here are 5 ways to control anxiety.|
|Taking Your Child to a Therapist Kids, like adults, can often benefit from therapy – but there are many important things to consider as you look for the right therapist.|
|Worry Less in 3 Steps Everyone worries, but would you like to worry less? Find out more in this article for kids.|
|What Kids Say About: Handling Stress We did a KidsPoll to find out what kids do when they feel upset and stressed. See what they had to say.|
|Preparing Your Child for a Move Disruptive as moving can be for parents, the experience can be even more traumatic for kids. Here's how to make moving less stressful for the whole family.|
|Helping Kids Cope With Stress Stress from things like school and social situations can feel overwhelming for kids. But by teaching healthy coping strategies, you'll prepare your kids to manage stress.|
|Teens Talk About Stress (Video) Here, teens talk about what stresses them out and how they cope.|
|What Kids Say About: Handling Stress In a KidsHealth® KidsPoll, kids talked about what they stress about the most, how they cope with these feelings, and how they want parents to help.|
|Helping Kids Handle Worry All kids to worry at times, and some may worry more than others. But parents can help kids manage worry and tackle everyday problems with ease. Find out how.|
|Anxiety, Fears, and Phobias Experiencing and dealing with anxieties can prepare young people to handle the unsettling experiences and challenging situations of life.|
|Going to a Therapist Getting help with emotions or stress is the same as getting help with a medical problem like asthma or diabetes. This article explains how therapy works and how it can help with problems.|
|Stress & Coping Center Visit our stress and coping center for advice on how to handle stress, including different stressful situations.|
|Stress There's good stress and bad stress. Find out what's what and learn practical ways to cope in this article.|
|The Story on Stress Stress happens when you are worried or uncomfortable about something. You may feel angry, frustrated, scared, or afraid. Our article for kids will help you manage stress.|
|Going to a Psychologist, Psychiatrist, or Therapist What's it like to go to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist? Find out in this article for kids.|
|How to Talk to Your Child About the News News from the TV, radio, and the Internet is often educational. But when stories are about violence or other disturbing topics, parents can find it hard to explain to kids. Here are some guidelines.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.