What does stress look like in children? - Human bodies are wired to experience stress in more or less the same way, but the way it presents in our emotions and behavior can vary dramatically. The way children experience stress is very different from adults.

Changes in behavior - Depending on the age of the child, stress could manifest as increased crying and irritation, changes in eating or sleeping habits, difficulty concentrating, disorganization and forgetfulness, or regressive behavior.

Teenagers - Teens might also demonstrate these signs of stress, along with moodiness, a change in their performance at school and social interactions, more frequent illnesses, and even substance abuse.

Watch and learn - Remember that children learn by watching the adults in their life. They will often follow your lead when it comes to dealing with anger, stress, and other difficult feelings.

Lead by example - As parents and carers, we have a responsibility to develop healthy coping strategies so that we minimize the effect our stress has on our kids and pass on positive behavior.

We all have our moments - That being said, no one is perfect and we all experience periods of high stress that can affect our mood and behavior. When this happens, it’s important to be open and communicate with our kids so they understand what’s going on.

Communicate - Sharing your own experiences with stress with your children helps to demystify the topic and open a dialogue with them. Help make stress a safe and normal experience to discuss.

Be vulnerable - Talking about your own challenges with stress is a great way to show them that we are all learning all the time. There is no end goal of perfection—we just keep doing our best and learning from our experiences.

Help them understand what stress is - Explain that stress is a natural thing everyone experiences. Becoming stressed isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s proof that the body is doing its job to try and keep us safe from perceived threats. Stress is the body’s way of telling us that everything is not okay.

Tell them what's going on - Naturally, the way you open up about stress will vary depending on the age of the child. If you’re speaking to a young child, you might explain that you’re feeling a little cranky and need to do some belly breaths to feel better. You can even invite them to take deep breaths with you!

Admit when you're wrong - If you’re dealing with a teenager, you might explain that you were short with them because you were feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and you’re sorry for not handling your feelings better. Both of these examples have the benefit of opening communication, demystifying stress as a topic, and sharing healthy strategies with your kids.

Listening above talking - When discussing stress with your kids outside of a direct incident, the goal is to reframe how they might think about stress and open a dialogue about it. Let them speak more than you do to prevent it from turning into a parental lecture.

Express curiosity - You can do this by asking simple open questions. For example, you might ask them what is scary about the situation, how big is the problem on a scale from one to 10, what parts of it are under their control, etc.

Calm the body first - If your child is experiencing stress at that moment, help them to calm down physically before launching into a conversation. This might be encouraging deep breaths, focusing on grounding feelings, and a long hug!

Recognize and react - Speak to them about they feel when they’re stressed. They might notice that their heads get “buzzy,” which is a sign they need to find a tool to calm down. Talk to them about what makes them feel calmer, whether it be taking deep breaths, rubbing their ears, or giving themselves a hug.

Communication essentials for talking to kids - Click on for more useful communication tips that will help you create an open and non-judgmental atmosphere for your kids to share with you.

Be available - Notice the times that your kids are most talkative or open to sharing, such as car rides when it’s just the two of you or when you’re saying good night to them in bed.

Start the conversation - It lets them know that you’re open and available, and that it’s not a taboo subject. It also shows that you care about what’s going on in their lives.

Regular one-on-ones - Schedule a one-on-one activity with your kid (or each of your kids) once a week or once a month so they know they can regularly rely on having your full attention. Try to be consistent and put phones away during this time.

Connect through their interests - Learn about your kid’s hobbies. Whatever their main interests may be, whether it’s music, sports, or art, show that you’re interested and create space for them to talk about it.

Start with general observations - Begin conversations by sharing what you’ve been thinking about, or an issue that is affecting other kids in general. This is an easier way to bring up a topic without confronting them immediately with a question.

Listen actively - When your child starts to talk about a concern, stop whatever else you are doing and give them your full attention.

Don't bombard them with questions - Show that you are listening and interested without being overly intrusive. Jumping in with questions and comments might cause them to clam up.

Hear them out fully - This means hearing them out even if it’s somewhat painful to listen to. Children often come out with worries that seem irrational and that you want to assuage immediately, but it’s important not to be dismissive of their experience.

Repeat back - Let them express themselves fully before you respond. You might want to repeat back to them what you understand from what they’ve told you, to ensure there are no miscommunications and to assure them that you’re really listening.

Remain open and non-judgmental - Remember that a child might test the waters by telling you just a small part of the story. If they don’t feel understood or see that you’re jumping straight to trying to teach them a lesson, they might hold back the rest. Listen with empathy and without judgment.

Respond thoughtfully - Even if you’re feeling upset or angry about what they’ve told you, try to soften your reaction. If they feel that you’re being judgmental or defensive, the possibility of having a conversation that actually helps will be greatly diminished.

It's okay to disagree - If they have expressed something about you or other family members that you don’t agree with, acknowledge that it’s okay to disagree sometimes and don’t minimize their opinion. You can offer your own opinion and communicate that they’re not obliged to agree with it.

Focus on their experience, not yours - Make sure to focus on your child’s feelings rather than your own during the conversation. If a child comes to you with a problem, it’s easy to express how sad you are for them and how upset it makes you that they’re hurt or stressed. However, this may discourage them from opening up to you again because they won’t want to upset you.

Find out what they need - One of the most important things is to ask what they want and need from you. Sometimes we open up to others because we need help with a problem, and sometimes we just need a kind ear. It can be frustrating when we get the wrong response.