Feeling stressed out is the number one complaint of many parents. But adults aren’t the only ones feeling anxiety over busy schedules, tricky relationships, pandemic fears or unsettling world events.
“Kids—especially younger ones—aren’t usually going to come out and say ‘I’m stressed,’” says Stacy Leatherwood, M.D., a pediatrician at Henry Ford Health. “But that doesn’t mean kids aren’t experiencing stressful situations and events in their own ways.”
Signs That Your Child Is Feeling Stressed
If your kids are too young to find words to explain their stress (or they're older and don’t readily open up), it’s important to watch their behavior. “You want to look for changes that are out of the ordinary, new behaviors or ones that seem like a regression to a younger version of your child,” says Dr. Leatherwood.
Some behaviors that could be include:
- Changes to their typical sleep patterns. That could mean sleeping more or less or waking up frequently during the night.
- Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. Instead of going out to play with friends, they just want to lie on the couch or play video games by themselves.
- Declining performance in school.
- Pulling away from friends or avoiding social situations.
- Acting out, having tantrums or getting in fights.
- Physical complaints, such as stomachaches or headaches.
Stress Relief Techniques for Kids
When trying to teach self-care for kids, the most important thing you can do is model that behavior yourself. “Parents who take care of themselves, take time to manage their own stress and model that for their children can help create a culture of calm,” says Dr. Leatherwood.
- Practicing healthy sleep habits: Be sure to turn screens off at least an hour before bed and keep electronic devices out of the bedroom. Making sure your child gets quality sleep will help them manage stress better.
- Creating more family time: Spending time with your kids gives you the opportunity to spot problem behaviors and stay in close touch with what might be worrying them. Eat meals together whenever possible and use that time to talk about the good and bad events of everyone’s days. Fun family time is also a great stress reliever—play games, have a dance party, tell jokes and get silly together.
- Building a “calm box”: Help each family member create their own collection of stress-relieving tools. For little kids, this might include a favorite stuffed animal, a picture book, coloring book and crayons, and PlayDoh. Older kids might fill their calm box with a journal, music, soothing aromatherapy candle and a yoga mat.
- Getting outside: “Time in nature, being active, is a wonderful way to relieve stress,” says Dr. Leatherwood. Encourage your kids to play outside after school to help let out any stress from the day.
- Staying active: Exercise is an excellent stress reliever. It improves your mood, helps your brain process stressful events and reduces overall anxiety.
- Modeling mindfulness: Demonstrate to your children how you take a moment during stressful times to calm yourself down. Deep breathing techniques, meditation, a relaxing yoga session or curling up with a good book are great ways to self-soothe.
If your child exhibits continued signs of stress and anxiety, it may be helpful to seek help from your pediatrician or a mental health therapist. “You want to create a safe place for your child to express their emotions,” says Dr. Leatherwood. “Sometimes it’s easier for your child to open up to someone else.”
Stacy Leatherwood, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician and the physician champion for childhood wellness. She sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Centers in midtown Detroit and Sterling Heights. Learn more about Dr. Leatherwood.