• Jessica Dubiel

Signs of stress and strategies to successfully respond to it

  • What stressors do you experience that causes strain in your life?

Influences such as traffic; loud city noises; electronic stimulation from TVs, computers, cell phones; juggling school and after-school activities alias overly packed schedule; pressure to succeed; family changes or conflicts, bullying, illness or injuries and a host of other factors are leading to so much stress and anxiety in children. Therefore, it is necessary to recognize them as soon as they pop up so you can help children manage stress better.

  • Signs of stress:

Signs of stress in children often show up as physical or behavioural changes or what may be causing a change in your child's behaviour. It is important to get to know your child well and pay attention to it to recognize the signs of stress. Being in the present moment as much as possible can help with that.

Signs of stress in children may show up in the following ways:

  1. Behavioural:

  • Changes in behaviour such as moodiness, aggression, short temper, clinginess or anger problems

  • Sleep problems or disturbances

  • Difficulty concentrating, being restless

  • Developing fears, anxiety and worries

  • Withdrawing from family or friends

  1. Physical:

  • Bedwetting

  • Stomach pains

  • Headaches

  • Decreased or increased appetite

  • Sleep problems or nightmares

You can help children by learning to recognize the signs of stress and teaching or showing it, healthy ways to deal with it. These positive coping skills are often carried into adult life.


  • Coping Skills and Strategies:

There are 2 types of coping strategies:

  1. Emotion-focused coping skills for children:

  • Label feelings, just being able to verbalize, “I’m mad,” or “I’m nervous,” can take the sting out of uncomfortable emotions.

  • Learn breathing exercises – When children learn to breathe in deeply through their nose and then breathe out slowly through their mouth like they're trying to blow a bubble or out through a straw, it helps calm down the nervous system. Using their hands, one on their chest the other on their belly to feel the movement, can help additionally to be with the breath.

  • Participate in exercise - Exercise can be a great way to get children out of their excess energy when they’re nervous and to boost their mood when they’re down or struggling with emotions or situations.

  • Encourage self-expression such as painting, singing, building something with toys to be able to cope with difficult emotions.

  • Reading a book helps children to come out of their difficult emotions and distract their mind with something enjoyable and entertaining or play together to be able to think about other things, rather than dwell on all the things that make them feel bad.

  • Other mindful activities such as yoga, playing or listening, meditating, praying to music can calm stress and anxiety.

  • When children learn to speak to themselves kindly for instance when they are thinking negatively about themselves or others it can help encourage them by asking, “What would you say to a friend who had this problem?” They're likely to have some kind, supportive words. Encourage your children to use those same kind words when thinking about themself.


2. Problem-focused coping skills for children:


When a child feels overwhelmed and experiences a lot of discomfort with a situation, problem-focused coping skills are the first strategies to use that can help reduce the source of stress:

  • Problem solve together. Prompt your child. The goal is that your children learn what works for them when coping with issues or difficult situations so they can identify what they need to do.

  • Encourage them to ask for help and to think about ‘who could help them with this’ as well especially when they are struggling.

  • When kids experience stress in decision-making situations and they have to make decisions pros and cons list can help to weigh their options.

Talking openly. When appropriate, talk about your stressful day and encourage your children to talk about what is bothering them.


Signs of toxic stress in children may show up in the following ways:


1. When a child experiences a lot of stress also called toxic stress such as when a child experiences strong, frequent and prolonged adversity, physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship without adequate adult support, it can lead to problems in behaviour, and health.


2. This can last a lifetime and increases the risk of stress-related disease and cognitive impairment. Difficulties with learning is a result of too much stress as it affects the development of the brain negatively and can be detrimental to children.


3. If your child is exposed to a lot of stress, they may need extra support from caregivers or therapists. Early care and intervention can prevent problems into adulthood. You can play an important role in child development for a long and healthy future by role modeling healthy behaviour.




McAtee Psychology is a private family psychology practice offering counselling, assessment, and therapeutic services to families. Our services include counselling and assessment for individuals, couples, and children & teens. Our mission is to help you and your family create a more rich, connected, and meaningful life.

McAtee Psychology NW: 1982 Kensington Road NW, Calgary, AB

McAtee Psychology SE: 105, 11500 29 St SE, Calgary, AB

gavin@mcateepsychology.com | mcateepsychology.com

Phone: 403-926-3738



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Gavin McAtee & Chantal Côté  

Calgary Clinical Psychologists

McAtee Psychology  SE: 11500 29 St SE (Thrive Business Centre)

Ideal for clients living in South Calgary

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McAtee Psychology  NW: 203, 1982 Kensington Road NW

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