Child Stress

To adults, childhood can seem like a carefree time. But children still experience stress. Things like school and their social life can sometimes create pressures that can feel overwhelming.

As a parent, you can't always protect your children from stress — but you can help them develop healthy ways to cope with stress and solve everyday problems. 

What are the signs?

Children may not recognise that they are stressed, but below are the physical, emotional or behavioural signs that may cause you to suspect your child has increased stress levels.

Physical Symptoms Emotional/Behavioural Symptoms
  • Decreased appetite, other changes in eating habits
  • Headaches
  • New or recurrent bedwetting
  • Nightmares
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Upset stomach or vague stomach pain
  • Other physical symptoms with no physical illness
  • Anxiety, worry
  • Not able to relax
  • New or recurring fears (fear of the dark, fear of being alone, fear of strangers)
  • Clinging, unwilling to let you out of sight
  • Anger, crying, whining
  • Not able to control emotions
  • Aggressive or stubborn behaviour
  • Going back to behaviours present when a younger age
  • Doesn't want to participate in family or school activities

Helping a child manage stress

If you notice that your child is getting stressed out, no matter what the cause is, there are things you can do to help them cope.

Let your child know you are there for them if they ever need to talk to you about how they are feeling. We have tips on having age appropriate conversations with your child about emotional wellbeing here

Talk to children about the physical signs of stress to help them recognise the way it feels. You can then look to explore solutions together on how to manage feeling stressed. 

You can watch this short animation together to help your child understand the impact of stress on their bodies and for a few suggestions on how they can deal with it.

Click on the headings below for tips on how you can help your child manage stress.

Listening
Listen to your child without being critical or trying to solve the problem right away. Allow your child to feel that they are being heard by taking their time. You can prompt them to tell the whole story by asking questions like “And then what happened?”

Start a conversation
If you notice your child is visibly bothered about something, name it for them e.g. “I’ve noticed that you seem to be stressed about the school project”. Let your child know that you’re not accusing them of anything but you want to know about their concerns. Be sympathetic and show you care and want to understand.

Help your child recognise emotions
Younger children will not have words for their feelings. Talk to your child about what happens to our bodies when we feel angry, stressed, scared, describing emotions will help children recognised them – developing emotional awareness.

Support your child to find a solution
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. Give your child some suggestions but try not to do all the work. Your child’s active participation will build confidence.

Support self-esteem and promote independence
Build your child’s feelings of self-worth. Let them know it is ok to make mistakes and to learn from them. By allowing your child to make choices they will feel in control of the situation. This will aid your child’s response to stress.

Get into a routine
Family routines can be comforting. Having a family dinner or movie night can help relieve or prevent stress.

Role model
Your child will look to you as a model for healthy behaviour. Do your best to keep your own stress under control and manage it in healthy ways.