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Stress in Children and Teens



  • When your child feels stressed, your child’s body releases chemicals into the blood. Too much stress or stress that goes on for too long cause the chemicals to build up. This is harmful to your child’s physical and emotional health.
  • Stress can be treated with physical activity and learning relaxation techniques. Medicine may be used for a short time to help with anxiety or depression until the stress resolves. Individual, group, and family therapy may offer support and help reduce fears and worries.
  • Try to help your child find healthy ways to deal with stress. Seeing a therapist can help when your child is under a lot of stress.


What is stress?

Stress is the body's way of responding to any kind of demand or change. When your child feels stressed, your child’s body releases chemicals into the blood. These chemicals provide the energy to fight or to escape. This helps your child focus and increases energy if your child is in physical danger. But stress caused by things your child cannot fight or escape mean that these chemicals don't have anywhere to go. Your child’s body responds by raising blood pressure and making the heart work harder. This kind of stress can affect your child’s physical and mental health. Many office visits to healthcare providers are for conditions related to stress.

What is the cause?

Stress can be caused by both good and bad experiences. Going to school, starting a new job, dating, and facing illness can all be stressful. We all have some stress in our lives, and a little may even be good for us. Some children claim they can get more done if they have a deadline. But too much stress or stress that goes on for too long is harmful.

Anything your child sees as a problem can cause stress. Different things may cause stress for other children. Stress can be caused by everyday matters, such as doing homework or taking tests, as well as by major problems including:

  • A change in the family or relationships such as a move, divorce, major illness, death, or birth
  • Abuse of any kind including alcohol or substance use disorders in the family
  • Being bullied
  • Concerns about performance and what other people think
  • Family arguments
  • Grief or loss
  • Making new friends or arguments with current friends
  • Peer pressure to shoplift, smoke cigarettes, or use drugs
  • Social events such as parties or dating
  • Natural disasters

Many stressful events in a short period of time can have a greater effect on your child. Caffeine and some medicines, such as stimulants, can make stress worse.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of stress may include:

  • Back pain, headache, or stomachache
  • Change in appetite, heartburn, or upset stomach
  • Change in bowel and bladder habits
  • Irritability, anger, or defiance
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Low energy
  • Muscle tension
  • Trouble concentrating or remembering things
  • Trouble sleeping and tiredness
  • Weight gain or weight loss

How is it diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and examine your child. Stress can cause common symptoms such as headaches or digestive problems. Your child’s provider will check for a medical illness or drug or alcohol problem that could cause the symptoms.

How is it treated?


Individual, group, or family therapy may offer support, help your child learn more effective ways of dealing with stress, and help reduce fears and worries.


Medicine may be prescribed to help reduce symptoms of depression or anxiety and help your child cope with stress. Medicine may be used for a short time to help until the stress resolves.

Physical activity

Physical activity is a great way to relieve stress. Physical activity boosts chemicals in the body called endorphins that help your child feel good. Focusing on playing soccer or doing aerobics can also help your child forget what is bothering him or her for a while. Physical activity can also relieve muscle tension, help your child feel more energetic, and help your child sleep better.

Encourage your child to take up a sport, join an exercise group, or walk at least a mile a day. Find an activity that your child enjoys and that helps your child unwind. It won't help if trying to fit in an activity program makes your child feel more stressed.


Relaxation skills take practice to learn. Learning to relax can:

  • Help you sleep better
  • Take your mind off what is bothering you
  • Help with physical symptoms by decreasing heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension

Relaxation skills include:

  • Deep breathing with a focus on taking slow deep breaths
  • Mental imaging such as picturing yourself in a calm place and letting your muscles relax
  • Mindfulness such as focusing only on the now, without judging, and not thinking of the past or future
  • Progressive muscle relaxation such as tensing and relaxing your body, one muscle group at a time

How can I take care of my child?

  • Support your child. Let your child talk about stressful events or changes. The support and understanding that you provide can help your child manage stress. Make sure there is time for friends. Talking things over with others helps.
  • Help your child learn to manage stress.
    • Try to identify the source of the stress. Then problem-solve together about how to best manage the stress.
    • Teach your child ways to resolve conflicts. Tell your child about times when you have been angry and stressed, and what you did. Give examples of what your child could do in a similar situation.
    • Let your child make simple decisions when appropriate. Because stress often makes a child feel powerless, you can help children by showing them that they have control over certain parts of life. For example, you might consider letting your child decide what to have for dinner or how to spend the day.
    • Encourage your children to do as well as they can but try not to pressure them or make them feel that you will be disappointed if they don't do well. Help them to set goals they can achieve. Help them learn to say "no."
    • Help them to balance their time and to allow time for physical activity, rest, staying in touch with friends and going out and having fun.
    • Keep a regular schedule such as eating meals at the same time every day and going to bed at the same time every night.
  • Take care of your child’s health. Make sure your child eats a variety of healthy foods and gets enough sleep and physical activity every day. Teach children and teens to avoid alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and drugs.
  • Check your child’s medicines. To help prevent problems, tell your child's healthcare provider and pharmacist about all the prescription and nonprescription medicines, natural remedies, vitamins, and supplements your child takes.
  • Contact your healthcare provider or therapist if you have any questions or your child’s symptoms aren’t getting better or seem to be getting worse.

Get emergency care if your child or teenager has ideas of suicide, harming self, or harming others.

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2022.1 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2021-12-07
Last reviewed: 2021-06-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2022 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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