Identifying Stress in Little Ones

Signs of stress and anxiety in children often show up as physical or behavioural changes. Children respond differently to stress depending on their age, individual personalities, and coping skills, which can cause many parents to overlook the underlying issues that may be causing their child’s behaviour. It is important for parents to recognize the signs of childhood stress and to look for possible causes. Children may not recognize their anxiety and often lack the maturity to explain their real or imagined stressful issues. This can cause a variety of physical and behavioural signs to emerge, and parents may be unsure whether these are symptoms of anxiety or a health problem. Parents can help their little ones cope with stress by initially identifying the signs that may be subtle and overlooked, here are some early signs that you can pick off your little ones if they’re stressed. 

Reasons & Signs of Stress in Toddlers

Academic pressure  

Many children experience anxiety about wanting to do well in school. Academic pressure is particularly common in children who are afraid of making mistakes or who are afraid of not being good at something.

Big changes in the family

Major life changes such as divorce, a death in the family, moving, or the addition of a new sibling can shake your child’s sense of security, leading to confusion and anxiety. For example, a new sibling can make a child feel threatened and jealous. A death in the family can create alarm and grief and may trigger fears about death and dying. Moving, divorce or a new sibling can cause a child to feel left out or scared. Offer plenty of positive attention and maintain familiar routines to provide comfort. Little ones who are under stress can result in them being overly clingy, this gives them some certainty and comfort.


Bullying is a serious problem for many children. It can be subtle, or obvious, and may lead to physical harm. Children who are bullied often feel embarrassed about being targeted, and they may hide the bullying from parents or teachers for fear of drawing attention to their perceived weaknesses.

Catastrophic event on the news

News headlines and images showing natural disasters, terrorism, and violence can be upsetting for children. When kids see and hear about terrible news events, they may worry that something bad might happen to them or to someone they love.

Parental instability

Money and job concerns, family turmoil, and parental agitation can lead to an overwhelming sense of powerlessness for children who may feel that they want to help, but don’t have the means to do so.


For younger grade-schoolers, separation anxiety can be a common problem. As they get older, most children want to fit in with other kids and be liked; the pressure to fit in and be popular can be agonizing. Cliques and the feeling of being excluded usually become an issue once kids enter grade school.

Overly packed schedules

Constantly running from one activity to another can cause a great deal of stress for children who usually need some quiet downtime occasionally.

Scary movies or books

Fictional stories can also cause distress or anxiety in children. Children are commonly affected by frightening, violent, or upsetting scenes from a movie or passages in a book. Sleep-related fear is a common response to stressful or traumatic experiences. Also, children that are feeling insecure or have a lot on their minds may miss toileting cues. 

How To Help Your Little One Cope

  • Keep connected – The greatest way to increase resilience in kids is to stay connected with them. Make sure you have time every day when you put your phones and your devices away, and you’re talking to your kids and your kids are talking to you.
  • Take it easy – Families are always running from one thing to another. Make sure your kids get regular, unstructured time at home when they can play, rest, read, or do whatever they feel like doing. It’s space where they can pick and choose, and it’s soothing, fun, and stress-free. All kids need breaks.
  • Name stress and normalize it – With little kids, try giving stress a name such as “worry bully” or “Mr Worry.” Stress can make a child feel like their body is out of control. Explain to them that this is the body’s response when we’re expecting something scary to happen. And when they learn to recognize those signs, they can do things like deep breathing to slow the body’s stress reaction down.
  • Stick to healthy routines – Like good nutrition and regular bedtimes.
  • Ask your paediatrician – For guidance or a referral for counselling if your child’s stress seems to be persistent and overwhelming.
  • Take care of yourself – Get yourself in check emotionally before you take care of your kids. When you ease your stress, you boost your connection with your children.