Stress is a common part of every child’s life. Children worry about their appearance, about tests and school projects, being accepted by friends, being separated from family, as well as many other concerns. Most children are able to keep stress in control as they have positive and successful life experiences. A certain amount of stress is normal, but too much stress can be unhealthy. Disturbing events in the news or in the home can increase a child’s stress and make them feel unsafe. When a child is ill or in the hospital, it can be an especially stressful time for the child and family.
Parents and other caregivers often ask what they can do to reassure children and help them to feel safe. Here are some tips for supporting children during stressful times:
Things that are stressful for children may be different from things that are stressful for adults. A child’s age affects responses to situations that are stressful. Children at most ages worry about separation from their parents or friends. While children develop at different rates, these are common concerns at certain ages:
It’s normal for children to have a wide range of feelings and some behavior changes during and following stressful events. Talk with your child about what behaviors you are seeing and share your concern. For example, “You seem to be having trouble getting to sleep at night.” Listen to their response. Offer reassurance and helpful thoughts. For example, “You are safe in your room and won’t be left alone. Would you feel better if you had a night light or some relaxing music?”
The following behaviors are often seen during stressful times:
Children who experience continual stress may show ongoing signs of emotional and physical problems if their stress level gets too high. If you see behavior changes that last longer than a few weeks, prevent children from taking part in usual activities or continue to get worse, please talk with a member of your child’s health care team.
HH-IV-81 10/01 Copyright 2001, Nationwide Children’s Hospital