Book Therapy Here |

Children and Stress – How Can You Help Them Manage?

children and stress

photo by Anna Shvets for Pexels

by Liz Szalai

As we mature and grow older, we develop more and more coping mechanisms to deal with the challenges life brings. But what about children and stress? How can we tell they are feeling stressed, what can help them cope, and what can parents do to help?

Signs of stress in children and teens

Children and even teenagers do not always have the skills to verbalise their stress. How do we as parents know if they are going through something?

Stress affects all the systems in the body. This is as true for children and adults, so parents can be on the lookout for physiological signs. These include changes to eating and sleeping patterns, headaches, stomach aches, ongoing colds and flu, shortness of breath, and dizziness.

A study on stress in primary school illustrated the importance of school nurses and health educators in recognising stress in children. This is because stress symptoms in kids so often present as physical symptoms, from mild signs such as chills to more severe ones, like nausea and vomiting. 

According to the NHS, it’s also important to look out for changes in behaviour. This could be irritability or becoming more withdrawn.

Stress in babies and toddlers

Responding to stress is part of a baby’s development.  An article published by Harvard university points out that stress can be positive when the effects are brief (crying when the mother leaves the room). It can be tolerable when the more significant impact can be buffered by a supportive and nurturing environment (the mother leaves the room and a loving grandmother soothes the baby).

But stress can also be extremely toxic for a child, when the adversity experienced is strong, frequent or prolonged. (The mother leaves the baby screaming, hungry, and alone for an hour in an episode of neglect).

children and stress

photo by Keira Burton for Pexels

An article published in the Paediatrics Journal talks about how extreme early life stress can affect the child’s immune system, and can cause multiple negative health outcomes.

There is hope, however, if a positive intervention occurs during a child’s developmental growth. If a child grows up in a neglectful environment, but are removed within the a certain developmental window, longer-term effects can be mitigated.

Children and stress

As a child grows, their ability to cope with adversity develops as well.

But the number of stressors they have to face also increase, as they go to school and have to navigate social relationships. Lack of connection, bullying and  academic pressure can significantly increase stress in a child’s life.

On the other hand, the changes of childhood can also help your child cope. Friendships, positive relationships with educators, and self-esteem from academic achievement are all examples of this.

A review on toxic stress talks about the role of resilience (how someone can adapt to adversity despite the circumstances). And it found that children with resilience have strong relationships with their teachers.

Stress in adolescence

Adolescence is a time of human life when stress factors certainly increase. A study investigating adolescent stress points out that teens are facing physical and sexual changes, as well as social and academic pressure.

And it’s a time when we perceive stress differently. Research shows that  teens are more vulnerable to the effect of stressors, because the areas of the brain perceiving and processing stress are still developing. If you are wondering why your teen is overreactive, this is why! 

children and stress

Photo by Monstera for Pexels

How to help children with stress

1. Model positive behaviours.

We can help our children from early on by modelling positive coping methods, and talking to them about what to do in stressful situations.

2. Give them power.

Teach them problem-solving skills, then let them make their own mistakes and find their own solutions so they can develop confidence.

3. Go green.

Spending time in nature is very important, especially for those who live in urban settings. A study found that children who have access to nature cope better with adversity than their peers who don’t. So if you live in a built up area, try to take family time outs in local parks, and consider working time in nature into family holidays.

4. Get creative.

Whether it’s is drawing, writing, dancing, or cooking without recipes, creativity can be a healthy way to express and process what’s going on. Research shows, for example, that journaling helps us cope with stress.

5. Be active.

Physical exercise, especially cardio, can lighten your mood, strengthen your immune system, and increase your feeling of overall well-being. According to NHS guidelines, young people between ages five to 18 should “aim for an average of at least 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous intensity physical activity a day across the week”.

6. Try mindfulness.

Teaching mindfulness is more and more popular amongst children and teenagers. A British study looked at including mindfulness for children in school curriculums. It found that the children taking part in the mindfulness programme show lower rates in stress and depression, and increased rates in well-being.

Worried about your children and stress? Our London-based team includes expert child psychologists who can help your child cope better. Or use our sister site to book UK-wide child therapists now. 


Have a question about children and stress? Post below. 

Liz SzalaiLiz Szalai is a freelance writer and mum with a Master’s degree in psychology. She worked with children and young people for more than 15 years, including teaching students with learning difficulties. See more about her at @lizszalaiwriter.

find a therapist

Related Posts

    Desktop - CTA Journalist Tablet - CTA Journalist Mobile - CTA Journalist

    close icon

    ASK US A QUESTION

    Dr. Sheri Jacobson

    ARE YOU A JOURNALIST WRITING ABOUT THIS TOPIC?

    If you are a journalist writing about this subject, do get in touch - we may be able to comment or provide a pull quote from a professional therapist.





    Yes, I am a journalist Click here to confirm you are a journalist