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How to Help Your Child Manage Stress

Author: Michele Tryon, CCLS
Published Date: Tuesday, July 17, 2018

When your child is stressed by everyday demands or unexpected changes, you play a critical role in creating balance and modeling healthy coping.

Stress to some degree can be healthy. It alerts us to danger, lets us know something is wrong, motivates us to get something done, or encourages us to work through challenges. When your child works through a challenge of their own, they are building their coping muscles. For example, when your child is learning to swim or ride a bike, they feel both excited and unsure. If you encourage them to keep at it, they will feel a sense of accomplishment when they are finally swimming across the pool or riding down the driveway on their own.

Children also experience stress when faced with situations out of their control. Children and families deal with many unknowns, like divorce, moving, deployment, loss of a job, or an ill family member. When dealing with changes and unknowns, your child needs to feel connected to you. You offer the foundation of security and safety that they need to make sense of their feelings and figure out how to navigate these changes. Simply being with a child during times of stress can help make it more manageable for them.

Here are some ways to help your child manage stress:

  • Know that some stress is normal and builds coping. Don’t take control every time your child gets frustrated or apprehensive.
  • Understand that all behavior is communication. Children show us with behavior what they cannot express in words. Watch for symptoms of stress like withdrawal or aggression.
  • Maintain routines. Predictability helps a child feel safe and reduces stress.
  • Model a calm response to stressful situations by taking a deep breath and keeping your composure.
  • Give your child age-appropriate information about situations that are causing family or community stress, and then listen and support problem solving.
  • Allow your child to work through a range of emotions if necessary and assure them that what they are feeling is normal and manageable.
  • Model healthy eating, exercise, and balance of work and play.

Stress becomes distress when demands and pressures overwhelm a child’s capacity to cope and the child feels that they do not have a parent or familiar adult to turn to. For example, children whose parents punish them physically experience high levels of distress because the person they turn to for comfort is hurting them. Use alternatives to physical punishment. Connect with your child and redirect or correct their behavior by showing them what to do.

For more parenting tips and techniques, attend CHKD’s ongoing free parent workshop on children and stress. CHKD’s Summer/Fall Parent Academy is in full swing and parents can register for workshops at CHKD.org/Classes.



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About Michele Tryon, CCLS

Michele Tryon, CHKD community outreach coordinator and parent educator has worked with children and families for 30 years, providing services in the hospital, home, school and community setting. Michele is a Certified Child Life Specialist, a Certified Positive Discipline™ parent educator, a nationally recognized trainer/consultant for Nurturing Parenting Programs™ and co-author of The Nurturing Program for Parents and Their Children with Special Needs and Health Challenges©.