Stress in children may cause them to regress in behavior, withdraw, have heightened emotional responses, or become more fearful. Caregivers can encourage rest, fun, and positive thinking to help a stressed child.

Some stress can be positive in the short term, such as the temporary stress that motivates a child to study for an exam or get to school on time. However, chronic stress is long lasting and can negatively affect physical and mental health.

Children may experience stress due to changes at home or school, life events, or pressure to meet expectations.

This article looks at signs of stress in children, potential causes of stress, and how to support a child who is experiencing stress.

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Children of different ages may respond to stress in different ways. According to UNICEF, common signs of stress may include the following for specific age groups:

0–3 years

Children up to 3 years old may show stress in the following ways:

  • clinging to a caregiver more than usual
  • changes to eating or sleeping patterns
  • returning to behaviors they had when younger
  • irritability
  • hyperactivity
  • becoming more demanding
  • becoming more fearful or wary of things
  • crying more frequently

4–6 years

Children between 4 and 6 years old may show stress by:

  • clinging to adults
  • changes to eating or sleeping patterns
  • returning to behaviors they had when younger
  • irritability
  • reduced concentration
  • being more hyperactive or more inactive
  • stopping playing or talking
  • taking on adult roles
  • increased anxiety or worry

7–12 years

Children between 7 and 12 years old may show stress in the following ways:

  • changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • irritability
  • concern over others who stress may also affect
  • becoming withdrawn
  • increased fearfulness
  • aggression
  • restlessness
  • poor concentration and memory
  • feelings of guilt or self-blame
  • repetitive play or frequently talking about stressful events


Signs of stress in teenagers may include:

  • defiance
  • aggression
  • increased irritability or anger
  • feelings of guilt or shame
  • excessive concern for others
  • grief
  • increased risk taking
  • self-destructive behaviors
  • feeling hopeless
  • increased emotional responses, such as frequently feeling sad or tearful
  • becoming withdrawn
  • neglecting responsibilities
  • poor concentration

Physical symptoms

Stress can also cause physical symptoms for children of all ages, such as:

Potential causes of stress in children include the following:

  • tension at home
  • parent or caregiver divorce
  • loss
  • changes, even if seemingly positive, such as moving house and getting a new sibling or a new stepparent
  • making friends at school
  • bullying
  • getting on well with others at school, either with peers or teachers
  • anxiety around schoolwork, including tests and grades

As children grow up, they may be more likely to experience higher stress levels. This can be due to additional stressors, such as:

  • peer pressure
  • social relationships, including romantic relationships
  • pressure around substance use and sex
  • increase in schoolwork and exams
  • pressure to do well at school
  • maintaining friendships

Stress and trauma

Children may also experience traumatic stress as a result of severe events, such as:

  • neglect
  • natural disasters
  • experiencing or witnessing violence
  • abuse
  • sexual exploitation
  • life threatening illness or injury
  • loss of a loved one
  • serious accidents
  • stressors relating to family in the military, such as deployment or injury
  • refugee or war experiences

Ways to support and help a stressed child can include the following:

  • Promote healthy habits: Help a child to stick to healthy habits, such as regular eating and sleeping schedules. Children aged 6–10 need 9–12 hours of sleep, and teenagers need 8–10 hours of sleep each night.
  • Encourage rest and fun: Enjoyable activities may help children cope with stress better. This can include playing, exercising, being outdoors, and spending time with friends. Getting enough rest is also important.
  • Be aware of triggers: Help a child to notice and track when they feel stressed and if there are any patterns. This may help children and caregivers feel more able to prevent and deal with stress.
  • Give emotional support: Give a child extra time, attention, and love. Ask how they feel and listen to them, respond with kindness, and offer reassurance.
  • Monitor symptoms: Notice how stress is affecting a child emotionally, mentally, and physically.
  • Encourage positive thinking: Children may start thinking negatively about themselves if they experience stress. Remind them of their capabilities and positive qualities, and encourage them to replace negative thoughts with more positive affirmations.
  • Be a positive example: Adults can share personal experiences of stress and how they dealt with it in a positive way.
  • Relaxation techniques: Mindful activities, meditation, and deep breathing can all help to relieve stress.

If people have concerns that a child is experiencing significant, frequent stress, they can talk with a healthcare professional. Speaking with a doctor or mental health professional can help people seek specific support for a child.

Mental health professionals can help people identify sources of stress and develop positive coping tools to help relieve symptoms.

Learn more about mental health resources.

Stress can affect children in different ways, but it may cause changes in their mood, behavior, daily habits, relationships, and school performance.

Children may experience stress for a range of reasons, such as expectations from school or home, peer pressure, or traumatic events. Even positive changes can cause stress for children.

Giving a child extra love and support can help reassure them, and helping them to find positive coping tools for dealing with stress may help ease symptoms.

If people have concerns about ongoing or severe symptoms of stress in a child, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional.