5 Stress-Relief Strategies for Kids

Image via Katie Hurley

Kids experience stress for various reasons. My kids are generally mellow little beings, but when their dad is on the road for long periods of time, the stress creeps in. Sometimes they have trouble falling asleep; sometimes they have trouble staying asleep; other times they seem to cry for no reason. And that's not the only source of stress that crops up from time to time. Believe it or not, I've seen academic stress completely change the demeanor of my 8-year-old.

Common sources of stress for kids include academic stress, family stress, illness, friendship troubles, and bullying. All kids are different, and they all show their stress in different ways. My son tends to get his feelings out pretty quickly, while my daughter can internalize things and try to fight through it. We have a “no one struggles alone” policy in our family, and that reminds them to share their feelings, ask for help, and be empathic when another family member is in need.

As much as our team approach to life helps our little family thrive, I've also prioritized stress management.

It's easy to forget that kids can experience stress, and that stress leads to anxiety, depression, and frequent illness.

Stress can affect your whole body, and it's important to teach kids how to manage their own stress levels. 

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Get started with a few of these strategies to tackle stress in your home:

Image via iStock

Stress check

Body mapping: The first step to helping kids learn how to manage stress is teaching them how to identify signs of stress. I like to use body mapping to help my kids understand how they carry their stress. Print or draw an outline of a body. Talk about how we experience stress in our bodies. Do you clench your jaw? Do you tighten your fists? Do you carry it deep in your shoulders or in your lower back? Give them some examples, but then ask them to think about how they react when they're frustrated or angry. Have them color those areas red on the body.

Stress checklist: Next, create a checklist of triggers. Talk about your own stress triggers so that your kids can understand what it means to feel triggered by something. Help your kids make a list of those triggers and keep it close so that they can be more aware of their feelings in response to triggers.

Stress choices: We all make choices when under stress. We can choose to intensify the stress, or we can choose to reduce ir. Keep reading for stress reduction choices for kids. Add them to the checklist once your child finds a few that work.

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Image via Flickr/ roxeteer

Breathing exercises


Deep, meaningful breathing is the best way to work through stress in the moment. It calms the senses and brings you back to the present. All of those red areas on the body map will disappear if deep breathing is done correctly. No matter the breathing exercise that works best for your child, you want to teach him or her to breathe in for a count of three, to hold for three, and then to breathe out for three.

Bubbles: For young children, bubbles are a great way to factor in relaxation breathing. They even work for older kids, too! My kids still love to get outside and blow bubbles when life feels hard. To blow the best bubbles, deep breathing is required. Cue your kids to slow down their breathing as they create big, beautiful bubbles.

Cotton ball game: Give each child a cotton ball and a straw. Ask them to move the cotton balls from one side of the table to the other by breathing through the straw. Again, remind them to slow their breathing for best results.

Hugs: Never underestimate the power of touch. Wrap your kids in big hugs and breathe together.

Image via Flickr/ frankjuarez

Relaxation break

Guided imagery is a powerful stress-relief tool for all ages. Do you ever find your mind wandering to an island far, far away? Adults often use imagery to escape stress for a few minutes, and for good reason. Checking out and imagining a happy place rejuvenates you and brings you back, feeling less stressed and/or anxious. Teach your kids to take a relaxation break when the going gets tough.

Have your child sit comfortably and close his or her eyes. Ask your child to imagine a place that makes him or her feel happy and calm. Ask your child to describe that place by telling you what colors he or she sees, what objects are in front of him or her, and what scents are in the air. Practicing guided imagery together helps kids learn how to use this strategy on their own at a later time.

Image via Flickr/ Stephen Edmonds

Stress ball

We keep stress balls all over this house. I recently encouraged my son to use one while watching his beloved Patriots in a playoff game. When we carry stress in our bodies, the stress intensifies. We have to find ways to relieve the physical stress that drags us down, and stress balls can really come in handy. Squeezing a stress ball helps work out those tight muscles and relieves that stress that we hide in our muscles.

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Image via Flickr/ DavidK-Oregon

Cloud searching


Kids love to stare up at the clouds and search for images, and this is actually a great stress-relief technique for little ones. Get comfortable in your backyard or at the park and look up to the sky in search of shapes. Provide gentle reminders about deep breathing and have fun with it!

Above all, always remember to play. Get outside and take a playful adventure in your backyard. Build a secret fort indoors on a rainy day. Play helps kids work through their emotions and cope with their stress. Always make time for play.

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5 Stress-Relief Strategies for Kids

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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