Stress in Childhood


Chronic stress in childhood leads to a cascade of chemicals that cause damage to the body and brain,increase cortisol and damage the immune system.  Stress in childhood can have long reaching effects into adulthood. 

Additionally stress makes  it more likely that children will suffer from anxiety or depression and less likely that they will heal from it.

What can you do as a parent to make sure you are spotting and minimizing your child's stress and helping them to manage their stress?

Stress in childhood occurs on a continuum from the less to the more severe forms. High conflict divorce, loss, traumatic accidents, violence  and abuse may be considered more serious forms of stress. This page in particular is not about serious adverse child experience like these.

Stress in childhood can be caused by everyday things  such as the news, social networking, separation, peer issues, worry about their parents, peer acceptance, body image, family issues, illness in the family, and school.

When situations occur that children do not have the resources to process, stress results. 

Therefore, parents should keep in mind that it is important to check in with children daily, limit their access to technology, regulate their own feelings and be cautious about what personal information their children are exposed to when it comes to adult concerns. Childhood stress is often caused by the adults in their lives transmitting stress to them. Keep a calm environment in your home. Monitor what your child is being exposed to and try and understand how they are processing information. Reach out to them and help them process information or cope  when it seems like they are struggling with it.

Management of Stress in Childhood

All anxious children can benefit from techniques to help with stress in childhood.  Children can receive help from many of the same techniques that adults can. The earlier they learn how to control and manage their stress and anxiety the better!

Some of the best management techniques for stress in childhood involve awareness and connection between their body and mind.

Research continuously demonstrates that our physical body suffers from emotional stress. Children can learn of this connection between stress and body and become aware of how their body reacts when under stress. Below are some childhood stress management techniques that specifically have to do with relaxing the physical body.

Management of Stress in Childhood: Deep Breathing and Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is a skill that can be taught to children, breath should be taken in through their stomach and slowly exhaled through the nose. Children should to pay attention to feelings in their body while exhaling. This kind of breathing is one of the quickest and best ways to help with childhood stress. 

Learn more about breathing here

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation teaches children to attend to different parts in their body and tense and relax them thus relieving physical tension. There is one script that is frequently used for children that can be found on the internet by googling “progressive muscle relaxation for children”. Depending on your child’s age you may want to practice this with your child, and later make a tape where your voice is recorded and you walk them through the script.

Creative visualization

Children can be instructed to close their eyes and imagine they are in a beautiful place. They can imagine signs, sounds, and smells in this place and be aware of their breathing and sensations in their body simultaneously. They can also first draw the place before imagining it. 

Healthy Lifestyle

Children can be taught the benefits of healthy eating and exercise, frequently the best way to do this is for parents to model this behavior.

Other childhood stress management techniques for children have to do with paying attention to their thoughts and beliefs that contribute to stress.

Attending to Thoughts

Children can be taught to pay attention to their thoughts, and that negative and destructive thoughts cause stress. They can also be taught about optimism and pessimism. Awareness of their thoughts can help with their stress level.

Problem Solving/Planning Ahead

Children can be taught to analyze the way they are managing certain stressful situations and generate alternative methods of thinking and behaving.

For example, if test taking is stress provoking for them a good plan would be:

  • Not to cram, start studying several days before the test
  • To eat a good breakfast and get a good sleep
  • To plan ahead to find a quiet place
  • To ask the teacher in advance about concepts they don’t understand

  • Recognize Cues

    Children can be taught to recognize thoughts, behaviors and feelings in their body that are signs of stress.

    Stress Busters

    Children can create a stress busters box that includes activities that help them relieve stress when they notice any of the above symptoms.

    Support Card

    Children can be encouraged to create a card listening people they can go to talk about stress when they recognize it. Anxiety and stress are often well hidden by children and adults, and talking about can provide relief.

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    Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.