Stress in Children and Youth

Stress is our body’s way of telling us that we’re struggling to cope with all of our demands or that we have to deal with a problem. Some stress isn’t a bad thing. It might give us the energy to finish a work project, for example. But too much stress is hard on our bodies. It can cause physical problems like headaches and sleep problems. It affects the way our bodies fight infections like a cold , so we’re more likely to get sick when we’re stressed. Too much stress is also bad for our mental health. It can leave us feeling tired, irritable, or depressed. It affects our ability to think, concentrate and react. Too much stress may even be a factor in our risk of developing a mental disorder or having a relapse.

Like adults, children and youth feel stress too. Children and youth feel stress for the same reasons as adults—they have a lot to deal with! Day-to-day demands like going to school, making friends, fitting in and getting along with siblings are stressful.  Children and youth may feel more stress at certain times, such as starting school, moving, experiencing changes in their body, or coping with illness or loss in the family.

Children and youth may have different ways of showing and dealing with stressors in their lives. For instance, they may complain of stomach aches, have difficulty sleeping, act out, be irritable or angry, or withdraw from others when stressed.

Stress Management

Everyone feels stress from time to time. We can’t always control the things that cause stress, but we can control how we cope with stress. This is called stress management. One of the most important things parents can do is model healthy coping skills. This means using stress management skills in your day-to-day life and helping your child practice these skills. Different people find different stress management skills helpful. Some tactics you might find helpful include:  

  • Healthy Living: A healthy lifestyle, including healthy eating, physical activity, and good sleep habits, are good for everyone. Additional information on healthy living and stress management can be found in our Healthy Living Toolkits for Professionals and Families
  • Healthy Thinking: Healthy thinking means thinking in a balanced way, and it’s very important when we deal with stress. For more information about healthy thinking, and an interactive Healthy Thinking activity, click here.  
  • Problem-solving: Working your way through problems is a helpful way to manage stress.Check out our interactive problem solving resource
  • Fun, relaxation and time for friends: These are always  important, but are particularly important if your child is experiencing a lot of stress. Encourage your child to participate in fun activities they enjoy, spend time with friends, or try relaxation exercises like mindfulness, visualization, or deep breathing. Keep in mind, however, that over-scheduling your child in too many activities mayadd to their stress!

Tips for a low-stress home

  • Stick to a daily routine as much as possible
  • Talk about your own stress, and encourage your child to talk about their feelings
  • Make sure your expectations for your child are reasonable
  • Show your child trust, support and love
  • Give your child opportunities to contribute to the family, like choosing a family activity
  • Give your child opportunities to make their own decisions
See Also: 
Stresslr is a free web app that provides a fun and engaging way for children to learn about stress, understand how they react to it, and develop healthy strategies to cope with stress in their everyday lives. Stresslr can be used on computers, tablets or Android and iPhone devices.
Toolkit for Families: Module 3 - Stress Management
Offers information for families about problems solving, quick ways to relax, and more.
Young Minds
Information for youth on healthy living.
Facts for Families: Helping Teenagers With Stress (AACAP)
Fact sheet by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for families to support teenagers with stress.
Stress Management Exercises (Youth in BC)
A breathing exercise, body scan and visualization exercise to help reduce stress.

BC Children's Hospital

This is an agency of Provincial Health Services Authority, providing provincial tertiary mental health services to the citizens of British Columbia. Programs include: Adult Tertiary Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatric Services, Child & Adolescent Mental Health, Women’s Reproductive Mental Health, as well as the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program for children and youth located at the BC Children’s Hospital.

Provincial Health Services Authority

Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) is one of six health authorities – the other five health authorities serve geographic regions of BC.

Ministry of Health

British Columbia Ministry of Health

RBC Children's Mental Health Project

RBC Children’s Mental Health Project is RBC's cornerstone “health and wellness” pillar; RBC Children’s Mental Heath Project is a multi-year philanthropic commitment to support community-based and hospital programs that reduce stigma, provide early intervention and increase public awareness about children’s mental health issues.

BC Children's Hospital Foundation

Through a wide range of fundraising events and opportunities, The BC Children's Hospital Foundation is united with its donors by a single, simple passion - to improve the health and the lives of the young people who enter BC Children's Hospital every day.