Helping Children be Resilient

Common Childhood Reactions to Stress and How to Help

Children of all ages can be impacted by stress.  Depending on their age, their reactions may look very different.  Below is a list of normal reactions to stressful situations and events that children may experience:

Younger Children

  • May return to behaviors they have outgrown like toileting accidents or bed-wetting, feeling frightened, worrying about being separated from parents/family, and/or tantrums
  • May become more cranky and may cry more than usual
  • May want more physical comfort

Older Children

  • Feelings of fear, uncertainty, or sadness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Might be getting false information from peers
  • May want to talk about events a lot or not at all
  • May feel overwhelmed by intense emotions and feel unable to talk about them
  • Emotions may lead to increased arguing or fighting with siblings or family members

Children of Any Age

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Difficulty with attention & concentrating
  • Changes in appetite, increased or decreased
  • Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
  • Unexplained headaches or body pain
  • Low mood and feeling irritable

How Can I Help?

Understand Emotional Reactions

  • Pay attention to behaviors at home, school, or daycare.
  • Acknowledge and accept any changes as normal adaptations to stress.

Reduce Emotional Impact

  • Provide an unconditional sense of security. Provide support, comfort, affection, and time for discussion as much as your child requires. Let them know it is ok if they feel upset.
  • Model healthy coping behavior by teaching children age-appropriate ways to cope with stress and by taking good care of yourself. Children look to the adults in their life to reassure them in that they are safe
  • Consider limiting the amount of exposure to news/social media information. Younger children might not understand and may be scared or confused by information. Older children might share false information or become reliant on constant updates.

Promote Resilience

  • Keep routines as normal as possible. Daily activities like family dinners and keeping the same bedtimes are helpful strategies
  • Listen to children and validate their feelings. A child who feels afraid is afraid, even if adults think the reason for fear is unnecessary
  • Encourage continued participation in activities children enjoy like art, play, music, reading etc.
  • Be a role model and demonstrate continued healthy behaviors like getting regular sleep, eating well, and staying active.

Talking to Children

  • Provide children with an opportunity to talk and ask questions.
  • Start the conversation by asking your child(ren) what they already know.
  • Listen for their fears or worries, and for any misinformation they may have.
  • Explain any information in simple and direct terms, and avoid language that might create fear “washing our hands helps us stay healthy” instead of “you need to wash your hands a lot or you could get sick”.

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Please share this page with anyone who you think might benefit from this information.  We are all in this together.  We will continue to develop and share content that helps to keep you and your family safe and prepared during this public health emergency.