Just like adults, children encounter many challenging situations that may leave them stressed out at times. The signs and symptoms usually show up through behavioral changes. Some kids don’t even recognize that they are stressed out, and many teenagers don’t want to ask their parents for help when they do. 

In this article, I will provide different strategies on how children can effectively manage stress. I will also discuss ways in which the signs and symptoms of stress can be identified, and how parents can best support their children in managing stress. It is important for parents to look for possible triggers to childhood stress. Recognizing these underlying issues is a great start in helping children control their emotions. 

Understanding Stress in Children

As a human being, stress is our body’s natural response to an unwanted situation. It plays an important role in child development. You may notice that some children can easily adapt to stressful events in their lives, while others struggle. Helping your child develop resilience during a minor setback can be a challenge but there are many ways you can support them.

Children, especially school aged and teens, are not likely to tell their parents what is causing their anxiety. Some children may experience confusion as to why they are “not feeling well” when faced with a lot of pressure at home and school. They may not be able to convey their feelings verbally, but symptoms of stress are often evident in their behaviors. 

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Stress 

Every child has a different past, and has a different level of emotional intelligence. This also means that every child may respond uniquely to the stressors around them. As a parent or educator, it is our task to identify the signs of symptoms of stress by tuning in to their behavioral and emotional cues. 

Here are a few signs that your child is stressed out and may need some extra support:

  • Feeling irritable, angry and impatient
  • Feeling unmotivated and refusing to go to school
  • Withdrawing from social activities and hobbies they usually enjoy
  • Bothered by fears and trouble sleeping at night
  • Noticeable changes with sleeping and eating patterns
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Seems uninterested in life and depressed

Physical Symptoms include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nail Biting
  • Nausea and headaches
  • Feeling dizzy or fainting

Exploring Stressors in School Environment

Difficulty with schoolwork, academic pressures, peer pressure, and being away from home are only some of the common stressors that a student encounters at school. School stress can affect students of all ages. Whether they are worrying about getting a good grade or just being overwhelmed with the number of assignments. 

Studies show that academic stressors can cause physical and behavioral problems [*]. Knowing the root cause of your child’s stress at school can be a beneficial foundation in treating and managing stress levels. It is also important that parents, school nurses and educators be able to tell if stress is becoming all encompassing and to know when to seek professional help. 

Creating a Supportive Environment

If your child is showing signs of behavioral, emotional or physical stress, take time to consider what seems to be causing the problem. Help them feel positive by creating a supportive environment. Allow them to explore their options, find ways to compromise, or discuss ways to cope with their stress. By doing this you are teaching them how to become resilient.

Establish Open Communication Channels

Observe your child’s behavior. They may not tell you everything but through observation you can tell if your child is in distress. Acknowledge their feelings and let them know that it is ok to feel hurt, scared, angry or sad. Reassure them that you are always ready to listen whenever they feel like talking. Allow them to express their issues, ideas and thoughts openly, in their own way. You want your child to feel comfortable in sharing serious matters with you. 

Building a Strong Relationship with Teachers and Peers

Building strong relationships with their classmates and teachers can enhance your child’s motivation and learning. If you want to help your child, start by establishing a strong parent-teacher relationship. Help the teacher get to know your child a bit more by sharing information. Let them know your child’s interests, challenges, and strengths. 

Keep in mind that a positive academic environment can lessen anxiety and can develop your child’s emotional and behavioral regulation. 

Encourage a Balanced Lifestyle

Your child’s participation in multiple activities at school can be fun and exciting at first until it starts to wear them down. As a parent, it is your responsibility to see to it that your child achieves a healthy balance. Help them manage their time for school work and extracurricular activities. 

Research shows that proper diet and exercise can have a positive impact on children’s mental health [*]. A balanced lifestyle means having plenty of rest, eating healthy foods, and proper exercise. 

Techniques for Managing Stress

You don’t have to be a psychiatrist in order to help your kids manage stress. Here are a few stress management techniques that you can try with your kids:

1. Deep Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises calm your mind and body. This is also known as your “rest and digest” mode. Sometimes young kids need a little more assistance in doing these exercises but it is a great way to help them relax. Belly breathing is a very effective deep breathing exercise. Have your child place a hand on their belly and let them inhale to four counts, and exhale slowly through their nose. 

2. Mindfulness and Meditation Techniques

Whenever your child is experiencing emotional distress, meditation can help them keep their emotions in check. Young kids are generally more receptive to learning new things. You can start the meditation by talking to them using words that make them happy or let them imagine a happy place. Let them focus on their breathing or let them listen to calming audio. Meditation will teach your child how to self soothe and have deeper awareness of themselves.

Mindfulness is a technique used to focus on the present moment, rather than past or future stressors. One simple mindfulness technique involves having your child focus on one or more of their five senses.

3. Stress Management Worksheets

Visual aids in the form of worksheets or handouts are designed to help children learn ways to cope with stress. They offer various exercises that kids can do at home or school whenever they start feeling stressed out. These tools can help them understand their emotions, and can support long term learning of coping skills to manage stress.

The Bottom Line

Kids and teens face a lot of unpredictable adjustments in their lives. Some can easily cope with these changes, while others struggle. Resilience can be accomplished if children are guided properly in coping with stress. Helping your kids balance their activities at home and school is a great way to support their ability to cope and gain control over their stress levels. Always acknowledge their feelings, try to connect with them, and make them feel supported. Make efforts to teach them techniques for managing stress to better cope with stress on their own. If nothing seems to help, then consider seeking professional support from a school counselor or therapist.

To learn more about instilling a mindful lifestyle within your family check out Boston Baby Nurse & Nanny’s online class, Mindfulness: Raising Self-Aware Children. The class introduces mindfulness, responsive caregiving, effects of stress, and how to teach mindfulness during various phases of a child’s growth and development.

Deng, Y., Cherian, D.,et al.(2022, June). Family and Academic Stress and their impact on Students’ Depression Level and Academic Performance. National Center for Biotechnology Information.https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9243415/
Thomas MM, Gugusheff J, Baldwin HJ, Gale J, Boylan S, Mihrshahi S. (2022,October) Healthy Lifestyle Behaviours Are Associated with Children’s Psychological Health: A Cross-Sectional Study. Int J Environ Res Public Health.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7602583/

About The Author


Michael Vallejo is a Child & Family Therapist with a private practice in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Through Mental Health Center Kids he hopes to support other therapists, parents, teachers, and mental health professionals with visually appealing online resources to support the well-being of kids in their care.