Stress in childhood

Definition

Childhood stress can be present in any setting that requires the child to adapt or change. 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.

You can help your child by learning to recognize the signs of stress and teaching your child healthy ways to deal with it.

Alternative Names

Fear in children; Anxiety - stress; Childhood stress

Information

Stress may be a response to a negative change in a child's life. In small amounts, stress can be good. But, excessive stress can affect the way a child thinks, acts, and feels.

Children learn how to respond to stress as they grow and develop. Many stressful events that an adult can manage will cause stress in a child. As a result, even small changes can impact a child's feelings of safety and security.

Pain, injury, illness, and other changes are stressors for children. Stressors may include:

SIGNS OF UNRESOLVED STRESS IN CHILDREN

Children may not recognize that they are stressed. New or worsening symptoms may lead parents to suspect an increased stress level is present.

Physical symptoms can include:

Emotional or behavioral symptoms may include:

HOW PARENTS CAN HELP

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

WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR

Talk to your child's provider if your child:

References

American Academy of Pediatrics website. Helping children handle stress. www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Pages/Helping-Children-Handle-Stress.aspx. Updated April 26, 2012. Accessed June 1, 2020.

American Psychological Association website. Identifying signs of stress in your children and teens. www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-children.aspx. Accessed June 1, 2020.

DiDonato S, Berkowitz SJ. Childhood stress and trauma. In: Driver D, Thomas SS, eds. Complex Disorders in Pediatric Psychiatry: A Clinician's Guide. St Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2018:chap 8.


Review Date: 5/27/2020
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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