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 illness 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.
Children can learn about stress, understand how they react to it, and develop healthy strategies to cope with stress in their daily lives using the BC Children's Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre's Stresslr resource.
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.
- Healthy Thinking: Healthy thinking means thinking in a balanced way, and it’s very important when we deal with stress. When children feel stressed, helping them to think about the stressful situation in a healthy or balanced way can help them to feel more confident and to manage their fears and worries. Learn how to change unhelpful red thoughts to helpful green thoughts using this tool.
- 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 may add 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
When children feel stressed, helping them to think about the stressful situation in a healthy or balanced way can help them to feel more confident and to manage their fears and worries.