fbpx Stress and Kids: What to Look For and How To Help
Authored by Nexus Family Healing on April 4, 2024

According to the American Psychological Association, more than 60% of high school students say they feel stress on a daily basis. Children seem to be experiencing more stress in today’s world, and for youth, it can be difficult to ask adults for help managing it, let alone realize that what they are experiencing is called “stress.” 

As parents and caregivers, it’s important to watch for signs of stress in your kids, realize how to identify it, and have some methods on hand to help your child when they are feeling overwhelmed.

Small Children

Stress can affect children of every age, even as young as preschoolers. While people typically don’t think of small children feeling stressed like adults, small children tend to be sensitive to what’s going on around them, whether at home, daycare or preschool. Some causes of stress for this age group can be learning social cues and norms, having to adjust to new structures or expectations like a new day care or school. These new experiences combined with any conflict at home can contribute to stress. Some common symptoms can be clinging, crying, anxiety, irritability, aggression, or difficulty sleeping. 


As children grow, the stress can get progressively worse if not addressed. Common causes of stress for grade schoolers can be more complex social interactions, meeting school standards and family stressors. Symptoms can appear as anxiety or age regression behaviors, meaning something that occurs when a person reverts to a younger state of mind.

Stress in Middle and High Schoolers 

Middle and high school are when stress can be even more compounded as youth begin to enter young adulthood and now have higher expectations such as complex social norms, the pressure to “fit in” and performing well in school. The social pressures as they enter young adulthood can feel overwhelming, some youth start to withdraw from their peers because they feel uncertain and insecure. 

Many of these struggles are normal parts of adolescents and growing up – it’s when the struggle and stress begin to feel overwhelming that indicates it’s time to seek professional help. Serious symptoms of stress in high schoolers can be in school performance, risk-taking behavior, or feeling hopeless. 

What Can You Do as A Parent To Help? 

At any age, mindfulness practices can be extremely helpful in managing thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness ultimately means being present-focused – what we are thinking and feeling right now in this very minute and using that to help ourselves with feeling stressed and overwhelmed. For children, mindfulness can increase their focus and attention, improve emotional control and their feelings of connectedness with others, as well as decrease stress, depression, and anxiety. 

Some of the most common mindfulness activities involve becoming aware of yourself physically – that may look like deep breathing, grounding exercises, and recognizing specific things going on around you. 

A mindfulness activity to do with younger children is to practice blowing bubbles. Encourage them to blow the biggest bubble they can and then ask them how they feel after they blow that bubble. It can teach them to breathe slowly enough to help calm them down. 

For middle and high schoolers, encourage them to try “deep listening” – pick a song or album and listen for something new that they haven’t noticed before, like new lyrics or sounds. 

Teach the power of “and.” When a person becomes stressed, they often focus solely on what’s stressing them out, forgetting the other parts of life. The power of “and” in mindfulness allows two contradicting ideas to exist at the same time – yes, this event or thing is making me feel stressed, and I have these other things happening that I’m happy about.

Remind your child of “and” – what are three things in their life they are happy about right now, that they can hold in their mind while they are doing the hard stuff. Focusing on the “and” can help us get “unstuck,” for example if we are feeling anxious and focusing on the future, or depressed and focused on the past, it helps us stay in the present which is often the best and most secure place to be.

To be clear, stress is not always a bad thing – feeling stressed before something like a big test or a performance is normal and even healthy at times. Stress can help motivate us and prepare us. What should be watched for is that overwhelming feeling and stress 24/7 that makes it difficult to function. 

This blog article was contributed by Luke Spiegelhoff, Clinical Director Specialist at Nexus Family Healing.

Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health servicesfoster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 50 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.