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Support a child who is living stress or anxiety

Just like adults, children can experience distress. The fact that children may not always understand the situation and the information that is out there or interpret it based on their level of development, can cause stress and provoke various kinds of reactions. Reaction to stress varies from one child to the next and can be influenced by age, level of development, temperament and personality, not to speak of the reactions of others.

Recognize signs of stress in their child

Your child experiences events through your eyes and needs to be reassured, know that you can be counted on and feel protected by you. You need to take care of yourself in order to remain calm.

Young children

Young children can react in various ways, given that they will not necessarily have acquired sufficient vocabulary to express what they understand and feel about what is happening. In fact, they most often mirror their parents’ stress. In this sense, young children tend to react behaviourally and during daily activities such as mealtime, bedtime, baths, games, etc.

Possible signs of stress in young children are:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Concerns (asking questions and wanting to be hugged)
  • Physical complaints such as tummy ache
  • Agitated behaviour (challenging what their parents say)
  • Regression (bedwetting)
  • Refusal to go to daycare or school

What to do for children aged 1 to 5 years old?

  • Remain patient, comfort the child using words that are understood and especially with affectionate gestures.
  • Use play (dolls, action figures, stuffed animals, drawing, etc.) to facilitate the expression of feelings.
  • Explain the difficult situation in easy-to-understand ways.

What to do do for children aged 6 to 12 years old?

  • If your child expresses fear, do not mock but say it is normal to be afraid and that it happens to you too.
  • Use easy-to-understand words.
  • Reassure and explain that you are there for support.


Teenagers have their own ways of expressing what is going on. They may act like they are invulnerable and nothing can harm them. But despite appearances, teens can feel very vulnerable and affected by the situation.

In addition to typical teenage behaviour, adolescents may display uncharacteristic reactions with respect to sleep and appetite or appear to lose interest in friends, school, work or recreational activities. Problems with alcohol or drug abuse or a video game or screen addiction, as well as behavioural disorders may also arise.

Possible signs of stress in teenagers are:

  • Worrying about them or their family members and friends.
  • Not appearing concerned and/or minimizing the danger of the situation.
  • Having difficulty concentrating, especially with respect to school. Skipping classes.
  • Refusing to do usual activities and/or see friends.
  • Having problems with sleep and appetite–eats too little or overeats.
  • Having headaches and/or stomach aches.
  • Wanting to consume alcohol and/or drugs.
  • Spending every moment playing video games or online and showing distress when screen time is limited.
  • Being aggressive, irritable or oppositional.

What to do?

  • Be frank, give the correct information if asked about the situation.
  • Ensure that the teen understands what is going on and, as much as possible, correct any wrong information.
  • Avoid pretending that nothing is going on. Do not minimize the seriousness of the situation.
  • When you are unable to provide answers, admit it. Instead, say that you will get the information and provide answers as soon as possible.
  • Avoid being moralistic.
  • Avoid banning activities that are not related to the context.

Keep to the same routine

Routine and a stable family environment will ensure that your child continues to feel safe. As much as possible, keep to the usual home routine; this will reassure your child. Plan activities with him.

Seek help

If despite everything you try to comfort and reassure your children there appears to be no improvement or even persistent and/or intensifying deterioration, you should immediately contact any of the following resources:

See also

  • Anxiety in children

Last update: February 10, 2023


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