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How to Help When Your Child is Stressed: 2 Effective Coping Strategies

Child is stressed and holding a sign that reads "help."
Stress is a universally-experienced response our body has to tough circumstances, whether they be mental, physical, or emotional. Kids, like the rest of us, experience stress too! When a child is stressed, they’ll likely display it differently than adults would. Here’s what to look for, and some easy ways you can help:

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As busy parents and educators, we tend to forget that it’s possible your child is stressed too. Even though our childhood memories may seem to be times of bliss it is important to recognize that children express stress just like adults.  

What is Stress? 

Stress can be defined as the body’s natural reaction to physical and emotional situations. Feeling stress on occasion is normal and even healthy, however, constant feelings of stress can lead to developmental delays. Children often express stress in different ways. Some children may become angry and yell, some may cry, some may throw their bodies onto the ground, and some may become ill. Some children experience a fastened heart rate, sweaty palms, anxiety, and overwhelming feelings. Children have all sorts of reactions and we as parents must be able to identify signs of stress.

Signs Your Child is Stressed: 

When a child is stressed, there’s a whole slew of different ways they may display it. Check out the following possible signs of stress in children: 

  • Hitting
  • Anger
  • Kicking
  • Insomnia
  • Appetite Loss
  • Stuttering
  • Indigestion/Nausea
  • Bed-wetting
  • Thumb sucking
  • Biting
  • Fast Heart Rate
  • Grinding Teeth
  • Anxiety
  • Tattling
  • Aggressiveness
  • Illness
  • Irritability
  • Isolation

We must observe our children for unusual changes in behavior. For example, a typically quiet and observant child, yelling and hitting a peer. The unusual behavior may be an indicator of stress. That being said, it is important to note that scolding is not an effective means of redirecting behavior. Instead, affirm and accept the child’s behavior. Allow the child to feel safe, supported, and most importantly heard. Children want to be acknowledged and listened to.  

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Strategies to Reduce Stress in Children  

Children react differently to stress and have varying coping strategies. Strategies to reduce stress in children can be strong stepping stones to resilience! Coping in children may look like crying, temper tantrums, rocking back and forth, and taking deep breaths. 

Our emotions and feelings can be complex and difficult to manage. For children, however, feelings can seem incomprehensible. While teaching children about stress-reducing strategies, start by teaching kids about their feelings. Children need to be guided when learning to manage their stress. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge their feelings and explicitly teach the word stress. Provide children with appropriate vocabulary to express themselves in stressful situations. Be sure to remind them that it is okay to feel scared, sad, angry, or anxious. Our feelings are valid and should always be recognized! 

Strategies to Reducing Stress

Promote a Positive Environment

Our environment holds an enormous impact on our feelings and emotions. This rule of thumb applies to children as well. Stressful and loud environments can hurt the child and can hinder social-emotional development. Consider these terrific strategies: 

  • Create a Calming Corner – A classroom calming corner can do wonders for stressed children as it allows them to disconnect with the whole group and recuperate with their own emotions. 
  •  Remain Calm – Parents and educators can practice using their calm voices. We understand that signs of stress such as crying and anger can be difficult to get through however, take a moment to reflect and transition into your calm voice. A soothing voice illustrates that the child is safe and loved whereas a raised or loud voice can incite feelings of anger and disappointment.  

Be a Role Model

As always, we are role models for our children! Children are always watching and learning from us, even when we may not be aware. It is important that we, parents, and educators, set positive examples. When feeling stressed, take this opportunity to model and verbalize your feelings with explicit language. Verbalizing our feelings and providing explanations illustrates that adults feel stressed out too! This strategy also shows your child that they are not alone. Next time try out these phrases:

  • “I am feeling very stressed because I didn’t get enough sleep last night.”  
  • “I am feeling upset because I did not get to finish my work. I am going to take a hot bath to relax my body.”   
  • “I am feeling nervous because it is too loud in here. I am going to lay down and rest my body.” 

Overall, stress is a significant occurrence in young children. As parents and educators, we can work towards recognizing stress and guiding our little ones to healthy methods of coping. While we all experience occasional stress, we must be aware of recognizing stress and how it affects us. We at Tip-Top Brain are very observant and mindful when working alongside our young students. We are always on the lookout for any indication of stress. If feelings of stress are detected, we know that we must step in by promoting a positive environment, reaffirming their feelings, remaining calm, and providing expressive vocabulary. Which stress-reducing strategy will you try out next?  

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