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Feature Article


Boy nervously biting his nailsHelp children learn to cope with stress

Nina Chen, Ph.D., CFLE, former Human Development Specialist, Jackson County, University of Missouri Extension


Stress is a natural response to change, demands or pressures of life such as family changes, job changes, personal loss, illness, changes in lifestyles and more. Stress can be good or bad. Stress can boost our energy to enjoy life more. But too much stress can make us overwhelmed, unhappy and cranky.


No matter how old we are, everyone experiences stress, and children are not an exception. The sources of stress on children range from going to daycare or school for the first time, being away from home, peer pressure, moving to new living environments or schools, or the birth of a sibling. Even birthday parties and vacations can be stressful. Other stressors include dealing with strangers as an infant, fear of the dark, adjusting to a growing body during the preteen years, parents’ divorce or separation, parents’ deployment/being called to war, parents’ unemployment, family illness or death, family conflicts, violence in their homes and communities, and natural disasters.


Every child reacts to stress differently. Some children seem to be born with easygoing personalities. Other children tend to be upset and are easily disrupted by new situations and challenges. Although we cannot change their personalities, we can teach children ways of managing stress and reducing harmful stress. The following are some tips:


  • Spend one-to-one time with your children each day.
  • Keep communication lines open with your children.
  • Set clear rules and consequences, and have realistic expectations.
  • Encourage children to talk about what is bothering them.
  • Encourage healthy eating and physical activities.
  • Make sure children get enough sleep.
  • Identify the cause of the stress.
  • Teach children how to relax, make decisions and solve problems.
  • Provide your children with a sense of security.
  • Monitor your own stress levels; be a role model for your children.


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Last Updated 05/15/2017