Children's Hospital Colorado

How to Help Kids Stress Less

Father and son looking at something on a laptop.

Everyone gets stressed. It’s a part of life, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Physiologically speaking, stress prepares our bodies for challenging situations. The heart rate increases. Hormone levels elevate. It triggers our bodies to give their best, especially in times of uncertainty and change.

We often think of stress as something to avoid, but stress can be positive or negative. It can feel like excitement or like anxiety. It can serve to heighten our awareness during a challenging new situation, or it can stop us in our tracks. When kids and families run into problems involving stress, it’s often because they haven’t identified effective ways to identify it and move through it.

“The way you help kids handle stress is going to depend largely on their age and what they’re going through,” says Children’s Hospital Colorado child life specialist Rebecca Majerczyk, CCLS. As a child life specialist, Majerczyk uses creative methods like play and recreation to help helps kids and families better understand and cope with the stress that a hospital visit often creates. She says that some of the tactics that she uses at the hospital can be easy for families to recreate at home.

Even infants can stress less

Parenting an infant is tough. They can’t talk or even make gestures about what they want, so you’re often just guessing what to do based on the sound of their crying. Crying can of course be a sign of stress, so how do you help an infant stress less?

“The biggest thing is for an infant to be able to trust their caregiver and the environment they’re in,” says Majerczyk. “You want to give them the comfort you know they like and try to normalize the environment as much as possible.

For parents, that might look like the following.

Stress management tricks for toddlers and kids

At this age, children may not be able to fully tell you how they feel. They have some words, but not enough to help you understand exactly what they need or want to know. That’s often frustrating for them because they have a lot of feelings, and it can be frustrating for you because you don’t know how to help. Majerczyk says to think like a kid.

Tips to help teens stress less

Due to upsetting current events like the COVID-19 pandemic and social media sites that promote endless so-called “doom scrolling,” teenagers today have many valid reasons to be stressed and anxious. And unlike younger kids, most preteens and teens don’t want to talk to their parents about it. They fear you won’t understand or that you’ll judge them or be disappointed in how they feel or what they’re going through. That’s normal. Majerczyk says parents should do what they can and find other ways to help their child cope.

The biggest thing Majerczyk says all parents should remember? Have patience.

“It’s huge,” she says. “And it’s easy to lose at times, and it’s going to happen. We’re all human, but the more patience you can show and hold space to focus on helping your kids develop good skills to deal with stress, the better they’ll be at it as they get older.”

Tips for parents and caregivers

Watch the video below to learn even more about how children and parents alike can manage their stress.

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