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Nurturing Resilience: Helping Children Manage Stress

By Lauren Monteverde August 28, 2023

Children, much like adults, experience stress in their lives. Whether it's a new environment, academic challenges, or personal struggles, stress is a natural response to life's demands. As parents and caregivers, it's crucial to acknowledge and validate a child's stress rather than brushing it aside. By doing so, we open the door to helping them build lifelong skills in stress management and resilience.

As the back-to-school season approaches, kids face a mix of excitement and stress. The shift from summer's freedom to the structured school routine can be challenging for them. In this article, we'll explore practical ways to help kids cope with stress during this transition, ensuring they navigate this period with resilience and positivity.

We spoke with Dr. Donna Wilburn, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, about her recommendations when helping children manage stress. 

Understanding and Validating Their Feelings

“It's important to acknowledge and validate when a child is stressed about something. Rather than dismiss or minimize it, it's important to understand their feelings and honor them. Then we can help them reduce the intensity of the stress by teaching them breathing techniques, mindfulness and other strategies that are calming.” states Dr. Wilburn.

When a child expresses stress or anxiety, the first step is to listen and understand. Dismissing or minimizing their emotions can make them feel unheard and isolated. Instead, validate their feelings by saying things like, "I understand that this situation is making you feel stressed." This acknowledgment lays the foundation for effective communication and trust.

Equipping Them with Coping Strategies

Dr. Wilburn continues, “Giving a child the tools to manage stress is one of the best ways you can help your child be successful in various settings. It would be even more impactful if you, as a parent, utilized stress management tools yourself. Meditating together, doing yoga together, or using other stress management strategies as a family would be the best way to encourage your child to manage stress.”

Teaching children how to manage stress equips them with essential life skills. Breathing techniques and mindfulness exercises are powerful tools that can help reduce the intensity of stress. Simple techniques like deep breathing or focusing on their senses can provide instant relief during challenging moments. These techniques are not only valuable in the moment but also contribute to their overall emotional well-being.

Leading by Example

“I would advise parents to manage their own stress and avoid rushing in the mornings. The child will mirror the parent's stress and their stress levels will increase just by being around a stressed out parent. When their brains are in a state of stress they will not be able to learn or comprehend to their ultimate ability. A calm parent can help calm a child and a calm child can do amazing in school!” says Dr. Wilburn.

Children often learn by observing their parents and caregivers. As a parent, practicing stress management techniques yourself sets a powerful example. Engaging in activities like meditation, yoga, or even pursuing hobbies that bring you joy sends a message that managing stress is a priority for the whole family.

Incorporating Stress Relief into Everyday Life

“Mindfulness and breathing strategies are a few of the ways a child can reduce stress while they are in the school setting. I have also included the teacher or the school nurse when helping families develop a resource team to help the child. If the school knows a child may need a moment to calm themselves, they are more willing to accommodate. Special passes to go to the nurse to do a meditation activity, a corner of the classroom which is cozy and quiet or even just incorporating mindfulness into the curriculum are ways the school can be involved in helping your child.” Dr. Wilburn says.

The school environment can be a significant source of stress for children. Engaging in mindfulness and breathing exercises can provide children with practical tools to manage stress throughout their school day. Involving the school, such as teachers or school nurses, in a child's stress management plan can create a supportive and understanding environment.

Simple Practices for a Positive School Day

Dr. Wilburn states “A parent can help a child enjoy their school day by practicing breathing in the car prior to getting to school. Setting aside a little extra time to sit in a park before school begins is another idea to prepare your child for the day ahead. Even singing together to some upbeat music in the car while driving to school can help positively influence the child's mood and therefore their whole day.”

  1. Morning Rituals: Spend a few moments practicing deep breathing or mindfulness before heading to school. This prepares both you and your child for the day ahead.
  2. Outdoor Breaks: Arrive at school a bit early and spend time in a nearby park. Nature has a soothing effect on the mind and can help set a positive tone for the day.
  3. Joyful Commute: Play upbeat music or sing together in the car while driving to school. Creating a positive atmosphere can help uplift your child's mood.

The Parent's Role in Creating a Calm Environment

A parent's stress can easily influence a child's emotional state. A stressed-out parent may inadvertently heighten a child's stress levels. Taking steps to manage your own stress not only benefits you but also sets the stage for a calmer household.

The Ripple Effect of Calmness

A calm parent has the power to soothe a child's anxieties. When a child feels safe and supported, their cognitive abilities improve, leading to better performance in school and various life settings.

In conclusion, acknowledging and validating a child's stress is the first step toward empowering them with essential stress management skills. By teaching them techniques like breathing exercises and mindfulness, and practicing these techniques together as a family, we can guide them toward a path of resilience and emotional well-being. Remember, a calm parent fosters a calm child, and together, they can thrive.

Helpful Resources:

  1. American Psychological Association - Helping Children Manage Stress: Link
  2. Child Mind Institute - Strategies to Help Children Manage Stress: Link
  3. Greater Good Science Center - Mindfulness Exercises for Kids: Link
  4. National Association of School Psychologists - Tips for Parents: Back to School: Link

Remember, each child is unique, so adapting these techniques to suit their personality and preferences is key to their success in managing stress.

As the school year begins, it's essential to stand beside our children on their journey. By offering them tools to manage stress and adapt to change, we're nurturing their emotional intelligence alongside their academics. Let's keep communication open, create a supportive environment, and encourage self-care. As we embrace this new school year, we're not just promoting success in the classroom, but also in life's ever-changing landscape.


Dr. Donna Wilburn is a solution focused, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, expert in high conflict divorce who has worked with Southern Nevada’s adult and adolescent populations for over 20 years. She works with children in high stress environments and is regularly featured in the news and TV shows as  the expert therapist.

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