Stress in childhood


Childhood stress can be caused by any situation that requires the child to adapt or change. The situation often produces anxiety. Stress may be caused by positive changes, such as starting a new activity, but it is most commonly linked with negative changes such as illness or death in the family.


Stress is a response to any situation or factor that creates a negative emotional or physical change or both. People of all ages can experience stress. In small quantities, stress is good -- it can motivate you and help you be more productive. However, excessive stress can interfere with life, activities, and health. Stress can affect the way people think, act, and feel.

Children learn how to respond to stress by what they have seen and experienced in the past. Most stresses experienced by children may seem insignificant to adults. But because children have few previous experiences from which to learn, even situations that require small changes can have an enormous impact on a child's feelings of safety and security.

Pain, injury, and illness are major stressors for children. Medical treatments produce even greater stress. Recognition of parental stress (such as divorce or financial crisis) is a severe stressor for children, as is death or the loss of a loved one.


Children may not recognize that they are stressed. Parents may suspect stress if the child has experienced a stressful situation and begins to have physical or emotional symptoms, or both.

Physical symptoms can include:

Emotional or behavioral symptoms may include:


Parents can help children respond to stress in healthy ways. Following are some tips:


Encourage your children to discuss their emotions. Help them come up with simple ways to change the stressful situation or their response to it.

Below are some tips that children can follow to help reduce stress:

Review Date: 5/14/2014
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.