How to help children with stress

Childhood Stress: How Parents Can Help (for Parents)

All kids and teens feel stressed at times. Stress is a normal response to changes and challenges. And life is full of those — even during childhood.

We tend to think of stress as a bad thing, caused by bad events. But upcoming good events (like graduations, holidays, or new activities) also can cause stress.

Kids and teens feel stress when there’s something they need to prepare for, adapt to, or guard against. They feel stress when something that matters to them is at stake. Change often prompts stress — even when it’s a change for the better.

Stress has a purpose. It’s a signal to get ready.

When Can Stress Be Helpful?

In small amounts, and when kids have the right support, stress can be a positive boost. It can help kids rise to a challenge. It can help them push toward goals, focus their effort, and meet deadlines. This kind of positive stress allows kids to build the inner strengths and skills known as resilience.

When Can Stress Be Harmful?

Stress or adversity that is too intense, serious, long-lasting, or sudden can overwhelm a child’s ability to cope. Stress can be harmful when kids don’t have a break from stress, or when they lack the support or the coping skills they need. Over time, too much stress can affect kids’ mental and physical health.

As a parent you can’t prevent your children from feeling stress. But you can help kids and teens cope. You can:

  • Help them use positive stress to go for goals, adapt to changes, face challenges, and gain confidence.
  • Give extra support and stability when they go through stressful life events.
  • Protect them from the harmful effects of too much stress, such as chronic stress and traumatic stress.

What Is Positive Stress?

Positive stress is the brief stress kids and teens feel when they face a challenge. It can prompt them to prepare and focus. It can motivate them to go for goals, get things done, or try new things. They might feel positive stress before a test, a big game, or a recital. When they face the challenge, the stress is over.

Positive stress gives kids the chance to grow and learn.

Here’s an example: The everyday pressure to get to school on time prompts kids to get their shoes on, gather their things, and head for the bus. But if kids don’t know how to use that positive stress, or don’t yet have the coping skills they need, it could mean a hectic race to the bus that leaves both parents and kids upset.

What parents can do: When it comes to handling that morning school prep (or any other moment of normal stress), it's tempting to step in and get everything ready for your child. But that won’t help kids learn how to use positive stress. Instead, teach kids how to prepare without doing it for them. This takes more time and patience, but it’s worth it.

This type of positive stress can prompt kids to adapt and gain coping skills they need. It can prepare them to handle life’s bigger challenges and opportunities.

What Is Life Event Stress?

Difficult Life Events

Many kids and teens face difficult life events or adversity. Some get sick or need a hospital stay. Some have parents who split up. Some face the death of a loved one, move to a new neighborhood, or start a new school. Any of these life events can cause stress.

When kids face difficult life events, they might feel stress on and off for a few days or weeks as they adjust.

What parents can do: Parents can provide extra support and stability. Listen and talk with your child. Help them feel safe and loved. If possible, let them know what to expect. Talk over what will happen, what they can do to cope, and how you’ll help. Give comfort and show caring. Set up simple routines to help them feel settled.

Good Life Events

Even life events that we think of as good can be stressful. A big birthday, the first day of a school year, graduation, holidays, or travel can prompt kids and teens to feel stress.

What parents can do: Parents can help kids and teens prepare for what’s ahead. Talk them through the situation, focusing on the positive parts. Give kids a say in the plans when possible. Listen to what they think and how they feel. If they feel stressed, let them know it’s OK and they can cope. You’ll be there for them as needed.

What Is Chronic Stress?

When difficult life events lead to stress that lasts for more than a few weeks, it’s called chronic stress. Chronic stress is hard on kids when they don’t have a break from it or when they don’t have the support they need or coping skills to offset the stress.

Having a serious health condition that lasts for a long time can lead to chronic stress. So can losing a parent or close family member or going through lasting adversity. Over time, stress like this can affect kids’ and teens’ mental and physical health. But there are things that can prevent the harmful effects of chronic stress.

What parents can do:

  • Help kids feel safe, loved, and cared for. This is the best way to offset stress. Feeling close to you and knowing you love and accept them is more important than ever. Provide routines, like the same bedtime, eating a meal together, or being there after school. Routines provide a rhythm and let kids know there are things they can count on.
  • Teach coping skills. Kids feel better when they know there are things they can do for themselves to offset their stress. Kids of all ages can learn and practice calm breathing and meditation. There are many other skills to learn too.
  • Help them take a break from stress. Make time to play, draw or paint, spend time in nature, read a book, play an instrument, be with friends and family. These activities are more than just fun. They help kids and teens feel positive emotions that offset stress.

What Is Traumatic Stress?

This is the stress that comes with trauma events that are serious, intense, or sudden. Traumas such as serious accidents or injuries, abuse, or violence can prompt this type of stress.

Parents can step in to protect kids when they know they are being mistreated or bullied. But it’s not always possible to protect kids from every type of trauma. If kids and teens go through traumatic stress, parents can help them get the care they need to recover.

What parents can do:

  • Give kids and teens extra support and care. Be there to listen and talk. Let kids know that they are safe. Validate and accept their feelings. Let them know that, with time, they will feel better.
  • Reach out to your child’s doctor or a therapist. Some need therapy to heal from traumatic stress. Parents can take part in the therapy and learn how to best help their child.
  • Spend positive time together. Encourage kids and teens to do things they enjoy. These might be things you can do together or things your teen does on their own, like enjoying music, nature, or art. These things prompt positive emotions that can offset some of the stress left over from trauma.
  • Give kids and teens a chance to use their strengths in everyday life. Trauma and stress can leave them feeling vulnerable, anxious, or unsure of themselves. Knowing what they can do and who they are as a person can help kids and teens feel strong and confident.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD

Date reviewed: April 2022

Helping Kids Cope With Stress

Home | Patients and Families | Health Library | Helping Kids Cope With Stress

    To adults, childhood can seem like a carefree time. But kids still experience stress. Things like school and their social life can sometimes create pressures that can feel overwhelming for kids. As a parent, you can't protect your kids from stress — but you can help them develop healthy ways to cope with stress and solve everyday problems.

    Kids deal with stress in both healthy and unhealthy ways. And while they may not initiate a conversation about what's bothering them, they do want their parents to reach out and help them cope with their troubles.

    But it's not always easy for parents to know what to do for a child who's feeling stressed.

    Here are a few ideas:

    Notice out loud. Tell your child when you notice that something's bothering him or her. If you can, name the feeling you think your child is experiencing. ("It seems like you're still mad about what happened at the playground.") This shouldn't sound like an accusation (as in, "OK, what happened now? Are you still mad about that?") or put a child on the spot. It's just a casual observation that you're interested in hearing more about your child's concern. Be sympathetic and show you care and want to understand.

    Listen to your child. Ask your child to tell you what's wrong. Listen attentively and calmly — with interest, patience, openness, and caring. Avoid any urge to judge, blame, lecture, or say what you think your child should have done instead. The idea is to let your child's concerns (and feelings) be heard. Try to get the whole story by asking questions like "And then what happened?" Take your time. And let your child take his or her time, too.

    Comment briefly on the feelings you think your child was experiencing. For example, you might say "That must have been upsetting," "No wonder you felt mad when they wouldn't let you in the game," or "That must have seemed unfair to you." Doing this shows that you understand what your child felt, why, and that you care. Feeling understood and listened to helps your child feel supported by you, and that is especially important in times of stress.

    Put a label on it. Many younger kids do not yet have words for their feelings. If your child seems angry or frustrated, use those words to help him or her learn to identify the emotions by name. Putting feelings into words helps kids communicate and develop emotional awareness — the ability to recognize their own emotional states. Kids who can do so are less likely to reach the behavioral boiling point where strong emotions come out through behaviors rather than communicated with words.

    Help your child think of things to do. If there's a specific problem that's causing stress, talk together about what to do. Encourage your child to think of a couple of ideas. You can start the brainstorming if necessary, but don't do all the work. Your child's active participation will build confidence. Support the good ideas and add to them as needed. Ask, "How do you think this will work?"

    Listen and move on. Sometimes talking and listening and feeling understood is all that's needed to help a child's frustrations begin to melt away. Afterward, try changing the subject and moving on to something more positive and relaxing. Help your child think of something to do to feel better. Don't give the problem more attention than it deserves.

    Limit stress where possible. If certain situations are causing stress, see if there are ways to change things. For instance, if too many after-school activities consistently cause homework stress, it might be necessary to limit activities to leave time and energy for homework.

    Just be there. Kids don't always feel like talking about what's bothering them. Sometimes that's OK. Let your kids know you'll be there when they do feel like talking. Even when kids don't want to talk, they usually don't want parents to leave them alone. You can help your child feel better just by being there — keeping him or her company, spending time together. So if you notice that your child seems to be down in the dumps, stressed, or having a bad day — but doesn't feel like talking — initiate something you can do together. Take a walk, watch a movie, shoot some hoops, or bake some cookies. Isn't it nice to know that your presence really counts?

    Be patient. As a parent, it hurts to see your child unhappy or stressed. But try to resist the urge to fix every problem. Instead, focus on helping your child, slowly but surely, grow into a good problem-solver — a kid who knows how to roll with life's ups and downs, put feelings into words, calm down when needed, and bounce back to try again.

    Parents can't solve every problem as kids go through life. But by teaching healthy coping strategies, you'll prepare your kids to manage the stresses that come in the future.

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2022 KidsHealth® All rights reserved. Images provided by iStock, Getty Images, Corbis, Veer, Science Photo Library, Science Source Images, Shutterstock, and

How to help a child cope with stress

: Reading time:

You can't protect a child from stress, but you can teach him how to deal with it. Maria Alekseevna Samotsvetova, a specialist in relations between parents and children, prepared 6 simple rules for this.

It is impossible to protect children from failure, disease and suffering. But if you change the wording from "How to avoid suffering" to "How to teach how to cope with suffering", the task becomes more real.

Parents teach their children by example. Adults almost always know how to cope with everyday stress and dissatisfaction. The child sees how dad behaves with noisy neighbors who sing songs at three in the morning. And he has instructions in his head on what to do in such a situation.

But events happen in life for which parents themselves are not always ready. Severe illness of a relative, sudden move, car accident, divorce, accident, death of a loved one. You cannot write comprehensive instructions for every case, but there are general principles that will help you and your child get through difficult times.

Talk to your child

Most parents fall into the trap. When a difficult situation arises, the elders agree to "don't tell the kids just yet" so that they don't get hurt.

It turns out the other way around. The child feels that something is not right: the emotional background of the family has changed, the parents are tense, gloomy, often silent. The child’s questions are answered with “everything is fine”, “you’ll find out later”.

It is very easy for children to fill ignorance with fantasies, which are sometimes more terrible than reality. How many stories can be heard already from adults: "Dad just left, they didn't tell me anything, and I thought it was because of me...".

Such a fantasy explanation of divorce is much more traumatic than reality. Therefore, talk to children, tell them about what is happening, explain the situation. “Difficult times have come in our family. Uncle Tolya has a serious illness, which is treated for a long, hard and expensive time. We all worry about Uncle Tolya, so I am often sad or thoughtful.”

Yes, such an explanation can also make a child sad and cry. But the task of parents is not to protect the child from experiences, but to teach him to cope with them, to experience them.

Do not hide your emotions from your child

If you are afraid, sad, angry, do not be afraid to do it in front of your child. He must understand that yes, mom can howl from helplessness or impotence. But then she calms down, gathers herself and solves the problem.

Emotions must be named, and their cause must be spoken. A mom who just bangs on the steering wheel in a car is one thing. A mother who pounds on the steering wheel and explains that she is furious that there were no free medicines for Uncle Tolya again, and then calms down and looks for a new way to solve the problem, is a completely different thing. In the first case, the child is scared, he does not understand the situation and comes up with his own explanation.

Be aware that children react differently

Children's reactions to stress or a traumatic event do not always resemble those of adults. Instead of crying, the child may start playing a lot, completely immersing himself in reading or fantasies. It doesn't mean everything is fine. Stay close and pay attention to him.

Reduce the demands on the child

In times of stress, the child spends a lot of emotional energy to cope with it. Accept this and do not demand excellent grades or impeccable obedience - it is already difficult for him. Be prepared for academic performance, concentration, memory, and obedience to decline.

Talk to teachers and educators, explain to them that the family is going through hard times now, and this may affect the child's behavior.

Let the child be a child

Let the child be a child. Even if Uncle Tolya could not be cured, and the whole family is experiencing his death, let the children play, watch cartoons, laugh or joke. A child cannot be in a state of distress all the time, he needs a break.

Take care of yourself

The most powerful resource for a child is his parents. They are a support, a support, a safe haven, a place of comfort and acceptance. When parents are emotionally, psychologically and physically exhausted, it takes a toll on the child. If you feel that you no longer have the strength to cope with stress, seek help. By supporting yourself, you are supporting the child.

13 child stress relief techniques for parent and child


psychologist, author of the methodology for the development of emotional intelligence of children

Little children are big experiences. Yes, even at preschool age, a child can have no less reasons for stress than an adult, and in some cases even more - because in addition to psychological development, the child's body goes through an active phase of growth and constant transformation.

It is during this vulnerable period that a high risk of severe stress appears, which, brick by brick, builds a high-voltage wall between us and our children, preventing us from touching the mysterious world of children's experiences.

Stress is like a parasite that devours our strength and resources for further development. Its negative component is so great that it is not limited to only psychological problems, but confidently turns into physical ailment and even chronic diseases.

But there is also an unpleasant moral side to all this - very often it is loving parents who surround children with an atmosphere of fear, instability and, as a result, stress.

We are often not ready to admit to ourselves that we cannot accept our children as they are. After all, even if a child in the external society has reasons for stress, it is the family that should serve for him as a kind of antidepressant, but this is possible only with the full acceptance of your child, with endless love for him, the real one.

Unfortunately, few of us are capable of such a "feat". Unconsciously, we endlessly try to remake a small personality for a more comfortable coexistence. We equalize opportunities, equalize characters, equalize aspirations.

We often do not perceive a certain talent in a child, and we strive to extinguish it by reviving new hobbies, new goals. This inability to be oneself inevitably leads to inner loneliness, to a forced existence one on one with one's failures, to deep sadness and disappointment.

This moment of non-acceptance of their child is especially pronounced in the "ideal" parents, who are too demanding of themselves and no less demanding of everyone around them. What are they, these impeccable moms and dads? Of course, successful, of course, self-confident and, of course, omniscient. And often dissatisfied, reproaching, overwhelming.

Being the child of a perfect parent is an unbearable burden. Each oversight, failure, inconsistency causes indispensable criticism, a reproachful look, unpleasant surprise. And many more things that are sharp and memorable. It is incredibly difficult for a child to meet such requirements.

Moreover, the constant fear of being a failure again in the eyes of the parents negates all the efforts and efforts at the very beginning. Such children will never give up trying to please their parents. And such children will always feel their failure so clearly that it will be very difficult to get rid of this feeling.

All this squeezes out positive resources for harmonious growth. Permanent stress, in which the child is forced to exist, at the physiological level does not allow him to liberate his mental, creative and cognitive capabilities. And here we get a vicious circle - we demand better and more from the child, but at the same time we create an atmosphere in which this better and more simply cannot exist.

But, despite all the negative aspects, stress can also be called a kind of engine of internal progress, however, on the condition that these are minor stressful situations that are not permanent.

It is stress, like nothing else, that can harden the body and activate the internal resources of self-preservation. We should not forget that we are surrounded by irritating impulses, and we will not be able to protect children from them.

Therefore, it is important to teach the child to cope with them on their own. For example, you can teach him to get acquainted and introduce himself to strangers. So he will feel more confident in the new society. Thus, it is possible to work out various common situations that cause feelings in a child, thereby creating immunity and self-confidence in him.

Just a few questions will help the parent navigate the flow of childhood experiences and determine the right course of action:

The first and most important thing is to always be ready to accept a child with his failure, to talk to him about the emotions experienced: both in case of success and failure.

Try to understand with the child what next step he wants to take? What actions will he take if he fails? Will he be ready to try again or not? If he chooses the second answer, what prevents him from being ready?

Offer to beat a painful situation with dad, sister, brother. For example, on the topic of meeting the guys from the new school.

Any controversial situation that we have talked about, played out, discussed with the child in advance, creates in his mind an important experience of overcoming obstacles, allows him to feel his readiness and self-confidence.

Like most other psychological problems that occur in children, the problem of childhood stress does not arise on its own. It is inextricably linked with parents, their perception of their child, their attitude towards him. That is why both parents and children need to work on eliminating permanent stress and its consequences.

Grounding games

Techniques aimed at "grounding" help to feel one's own boundaries, increase awareness of the presence here and now. This skill is necessary for understanding your feelings and emotions, managing them.

We draw. We outline the palms and feet of the child on paper, together we draw funny animals or interesting pictures from the existing figures.

We hug more. This helps the child recognize their limits. In general, understanding your boundaries begins with feeling the boundaries of your body.

Describe your condition. We draw clouds on paper, under which we write: "I feel bad when ..." and fill the cloud with situations that make the child experience feelings. Even if the child does not know how to write yet, you can fill in the clouds yourself, the main thing is to teach the baby to recognize and pronounce his feelings and the situations that these feelings cause.

Heart. Exercise for alternating relaxation and tension throughout the body. We repeat the work of the heart - we fully strain for a few seconds, then we try to completely relax.

Breath. From an early age, we teach the child to work with breathing. Kids will especially like this exercise: we put a small toy on the tummy and draw his attention to how the toy rises and falls with each inhalation and exhalation. Over time, the child will learn to control this process.

Tactile stories. Incredibly fascinating technique of fairy tale therapy. We tell stories using all possible means at hand. For example, we convey aromas from a fairy tale with the help of aroma oils, depict heroes as real toys, and perform actions described in a fairy tale. This helps the child to get involved in the plot and fully understand all the events described from an emotional point of view.

Ridding ourselves of the most common "fit" syndrome

We build our whole life based on the desire to experience the same experience again and again, like nesting dolls in the captivity of conformity, not wanting to change anything from generation to generation. We are driven by the desire to match our personal past, the experience of our childhood, our youth.

We endlessly demand from our children the same diligent output of letters in the first grade, the same enthusiasm to read historical literature or go in for sports, music, drawing . .. Only such an attitude to life seems understandable and correct to us, only such an attitude we expect from our own children.

Moreover, the experience gained through strong emotions, both positive and negative, is best absorbed. At the same time, very often we do not even realize what exactly in this experience has brought us benefit, and what has brought difficulties.

To do this, we perform 3 release techniques:

Work with the past. We find in ourselves a "resource of happiness"

Find in yourself an image that corresponds to the state of a happy parent. Be aware of it at the level of body position, facial expression, internal state. And tell yourself: "I am a happy mother! I accept my children! I see their talents and help them develop!" Say this phrase until you feel it with your whole being. Remember this state, ask to take a picture of yourself. And return to this image-state every day at least 3-5 times.

This exercise will break the chain of neural response that has been entrenched for years.

And the next time you want to say “should” to your child or yourself, enter this state again, you will see how the wording itself, and maybe even the essence of the message to your child, will change dramatically.

Working with the present. Inner circle rule

We all know women who, as the saying goes, "take out the garbage wearing makeup and high heels," and walk around the house in old dressing gowns. They are sweet and charming on the phone with their girlfriends, wanting to show the perfect picture, but at the same time they are ready to break loose on the child if he does something wrong. How to get rid of this desire to always seem perfect in the eyes of others, but often to the detriment of your loved ones?

Practicing Technique "Inner Circle Rule" :

draw circles: one inside the other, while the central circle is you and your family. He is the closest;

the next circle symbolizes the parents;

then close friends, acquaintances from work;

the last circle is just people around.

Every time we intend to do something, we want to demand something from ourselves or a child, we ask ourselves the question: "What will this give to my inner circle? And what does my child think and feel about this? My husband? I myself ?" And only if this decision can bring joy to our inner circle, we move on.

It is often very difficult for children to live up to their parents' expectations. After all, we always draw a picture of the future for ourselves, in which they are already successful, graduated from high school well, created a family with an ideal husband/wife. We try to program our children for this happy future, but at the same time we only develop an inferiority complex in them.

What to do?

We teach children to learn!

It is very important to simply acknowledge the fact that in 15 years 50% of professions will be replaced and that our idea of ​​the future does not reflect at all what in reality can expect us.

The best thing we can do now is to teach the child to learn, to master the important skills of reading, writing, counting, to help him expand his own models of cognition. The technique of five types of content is perfect here.

We choose a new topic that may be of interest to the child, and begin to study it from five different angles. For example, when studying the underwater world, you can read interesting thematic literature, watch a documentary, make your own poster with outstanding abode of the underwater world, arrange a home scene on this topic and, of course, visit the aquarium for a "personal acquaintance".

Learn more