NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Stress and Children

Stress and Children


Stress is a function of the demands placed on us and our ability to meet them. These demands often come from outside sources, such as family, jobs, friends, or school. But it also can come from within; often related to what we think we should be doing versus what we're actually able to do.

Stress isn’t an “adults only” situation in our modern life.  Children can also feel overwhelmed at times. Toddlers may feel overwhelmed when separated from parents. School-aged children of all grade levels may feel overwhelmed while preparing for exams and social pressures (especially from trying to fit in). Parents can also cause stress in children's lives. High-achieving parents may expect the same level of achievement from their children. Those children who lack their parents' motivation or capabilities may feel frustrated and become stressed.

Changes in lifestyle and disruptions in the normal routine of people in all age groups can bring about stress. For children and adolescents some of the causes include:

• Changing schools

• Problems with peers

• Injuries or severe illness

• Recent move to a new home

• Loss of anything valuable to the child

• Parents' divorce, separation or marital conflict

• Inadequate physical resources-food, clothing, shelter, etc.

• Recent death of a loved one-parent, grandparent, sibling, friend

• Constant fatigue brought about by inadequate rest and/or sleep

• Regular conflict between your child and another family member, close friend or school teacher


A certain amount of stress is normal and not always bad. Unfortunately, children are becoming stressed at younger and younger ages today. Stress varies from child to child, and how much stress one can easily handle varies, too. Sometimes stress can push a child on to greater achievement. But excessive stress can be self-defeating. Signs of too much stress in a child's or adolescent's life include the following:

• Withdrawal from activities previously enjoyed

• Bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, sleep disorders

• Distrust and feelings of not being wanted or loved

• Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia

• Change in behavior and emotional upheavals

• Low self-esteem and depression

• Chronic or recurrent disabling headaches or back pain, skin eruptions

• High-risk behaviors such as using drugs and drinking


How can you help kids cope with stress? Proper rest and good nutrition can boost coping skills, as can good parenting. Make time for your kids each day. Show signs of affection such as hugs and more hugs.  Let your child express his/her feelings. Whether they need to talk or just be in the same room with you, make yourself available.


Sometimes kids just feel better when you spend time with them on fun activities. Children can become resilient and acquire the skills to bounce back from stressful situations.  Help the child build friendships that support him/her. Model healthy patterns of eating and sleeping and encourage daily physical activity.

Remember that some level of stress is normal; let your kids know that it's OK to feel angry, scared, lonely, or anxious and that other people share those feelings. Reassurance is important, so remind them that you're confident that they can handle the situation.

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