Children face stressors that can affect their daily lives. How you help support them can enhance their mental and physical well-being.

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Any developments that require your child to change or adapt may incite anxiety.

Even positive events can trigger stress. Moving, making new friends, and even going to summer camp are changes that can induce stress.

Some stress may be beneficial. As children develop, manageable stress helps them learn to become resilient. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) emphasizes that in non-life-threatening situations, stress can motivate people.

Studying for an important test or trying out for the soccer team may prompt this short-term stress. But ongoing stress takes a toll and requires more support.

Understanding the signs of stress in children and helping them cope is key to their mental and physical well-being.

To support children experiencing ongoing stress, here are five ways to help:

1. Ensuring your child has a stable environment

Is their home a safe place where your child can feel secure? Can your child calm down and relax, or is it more often chaotic?

While providing safety and security is necessary, it’s also important to establish and maintain routines. Your child can rely on this structure. It may also enhance their sense of control.

Consider activities that help relieve their stress, such as watching a favorite movie or listening to music. Consider staying away from forms of media with violence or distressing events.

2. Increasing their sense of agency

Knowing we can navigate some things in our lives helps us feel less stressed. This is true for children as well. When possible, you can suggest they identify options and make choices. When they choose well, you can celebrate their efforts.

Also, considering the unexpected can be jarring. When changes are coming, you could let them know in advance.

If you need to rearrange a schedule or reschedule a family visit, you can tell your children as soon as possible. Try to help them get used to the change rather than react to it.

3. Attending to behavioral changes

You can set aside time to talk with your children individually. Try listening to their responses without interrupting.

You can actively listen by trying to ask questions to understand what they’re going through.

You can watch for signs of stress. Rather than moving toward an action plan, try to identify and name their emotions.

By showing care and affection, your child can see that you’re on their team, supporting them. You might explore with them how they could resolve their source of stress.

4. Encouraging physical activity

Like adults, exercising is an easy way for your children to work out their frustrations. They also gain a mental health boost. It’s beneficial for their bodies and can help them cope.

5. Getting professional help

If relief doesn’t come and your child shows signs of depression, isolation, or elevated anxiety, you can seek expert help. A therapist or counselor can develop a therapeutic plan specifically for them.

If you’re looking for a therapist for your kid, check out Psych Central’s article on how to choose the right therapist for your child and Psych Central’s guide to finding mental health support.

Also, you can learn more about coping skills to help kids manage stress.

Like us, our children feel physical tension and emotional upset when stress lingers.

When someone is under prolonged or permanent stress, they’re experiencing toxic stress, which can happen to adults and children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that once a child’s stress level is severe enough to affect their ability to cope, it becomes hazardous. And it can lead to short- and long-term effects on their health.

How can you distinguish between a bad day and ongoing stress? Here are some indicators that stress is influencing your child’s ability to function:

  • Recurrent sleep disturbances: This may include bad dreams, the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, or bed-wetting.
  • Physical symptoms: These include nausea, stomachaches, pains without a direct cause, and headaches. Over time, the impact of stress on your child’s body can escalate. The incidence of conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart problems, and cancer increases when a child lives with toxic stress.
  • Signs of anxiety: Even when your child is unable to tell you, stress can lead to anxiety symptoms. They may experience episodes of heart pounding, dizziness, and difficulty breathing. Your child may also avoid school and fear being away from you.
  • Behavioral issues: Pay attention to behavioral patterns that aren’t usually present, including emotions that are not controllable, such as crying or anger. Other signs to look out for include acting out in disruptive ways toward other children or adults, decreased ability to control impulses, and a regression in their development.

Here’s more about how high-stress family situations can affect kids.

Not all children feel they can manage stress and anxiety. Some children may need urgent help. In 2020, suicide was the second leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 14.

While we can’t remove all of our children’s stress, we can stay attentive. By noticing and intervening when needed, we can provide the support to come alongside and help them.

If you suspect your child may be at risk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or use the online Lifeline Crisis Chat.