Pediatric HealthSource: Stress

Catherine Butz, M.D.

Q: As summer quickly approaches, all of my children—young and old—seem to be stressed. Does stress occur at all ages? If so, what are some common causes of it for children and what can they do to alleviate it?

A: As school ends, students are excited for summer but still have classwork to finish. Typically, we think of high schoolers' finals when we think of stress at the end of the academic year, but stress can occur at any time, and at any age.

Stress is a normal part of life, and it presents differently in everyone. Children of all ages stress over things such as their appearance, school, family and friends. In small doses, stress can be positive and help us achieve. However, when stress becomes chronic, symptoms such as insomnia, stomach pain, headaches and emotional changes emerge.

Parents can help children manage stress by attempting to identify triggers, creating and maintaining routines, and being open to listening to their son or daughter about what is on their mind. Especially in these times, with so much media coverage of events that may challenge a child's sense of safety and security, parents need to be available to hear questions and opinions. Honest conversations can help parents assist their children in developing a plan to manage stress now and in the future. Creating and modeling stress-relieving habits can make a big difference.

Always consult your child's pediatrician if you have concerns about your child's physical or mental health.

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Catherine Butz, M.D., is a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Tip of the Month

Coping Tactics

Not all stress is avoidable. There are several stress-management tips parents can give their children:

  • Relax. Encourage them to practice relaxation and mindfulness regularly. Take a minute to pause and relax. Suggest mini-breaks during the day just to breathe slowly. Unplug from electronics and get adequate rest at night.
  • Exercise. Help your child develop a regular exercise program to reduce the effects of stress. Try walking, jogging, playing sports or doing yoga.
  • Talk. Provide children with opportunities to talk about what's upsetting them. This can help generate solutions to manage stress and decrease worry. Be open and nonjudgmental.