Pediatric Mental Health: Helping Your Child Through Stress and Anxiety

Pediatric Mental Health: Helping Your Child Through Stress and Anxiety

Anxiety and stress are normal for children and teens, especially as they go through different life stages and adjust to environmental changes, both at home and at school. Factors like social situations, studying for school tests, and relationships with friends and family all can contribute to stress and anxiety.

Parents can be a huge influence and help when a child is dealing with stress or anxiety.

It's important to be there for your child, and to follow some simple steps to help them feel more secure and at ease.

3 Tips to Help Decrease Your Child's Stress or Anxiety

1. Keep the same daily schedules and routines.

Keeping to the same mealtimes, nap times, bedtimes, and after-school homework or activity routines can positively affect your child's mental health. Familiar activities and routines help children gain a sense of belonging, purpose, and self-confidence.

2. Validate your child's feelings.

Listening attentively to your child and helping them name the emotion they're feeling can make them feel heard during stressful times.

Ask your child to describe how they're feeling. If they have trouble naming their emotion, try printing out an “emotions chart," such as the one from hope4hurtingkids, with facial expressions to help them express what they're feeling.

Validate their emotion with responses such as “You're feeling sad now, aren't you?" or “It sounds like you're really frustrated." Allow them to feel understood and supported. Identifying the emotion makes it easier to talk about what your child is feeling and how they can deal with it.

3. Practice calm breathing exercises with your child.

Anxiety can come from a lot of sources, and it's important to know how to control it when a wave of anxiety occurs. A common anxiety symptom is irregular breathing.

If you suspect your child is experiencing an anxious moment that affects their breathing, teach them calm breathing.

How To Use Calm Breathing

  • During an anxious moment, take smooth, slow, regular breaths.
  • Have your child sit upright without slouching to increase their lungs' air capacity.
  • Ask them to inhale slowly for a count of four through their nose, pulling the breath down into their lower belly so it pushes out a bit.
  • Hold the breath for two counts.
  • Exhale slowly through the mouth for four counts.
  • Wait a few seconds before taking another breath. Repeat for one minute as your child finds their own comfortable breathing rhythm.

This technique is simple, and it can usually curb anxiety in both children and adults.

Talking With Your Child About Stress and Anxiety

Parenting children and teens with anxiety may be challenging, but there are simple things you can do to make a difference at home. Here are some dos and don'ts for helping a child who is struggling with stress or strong emotions.


  • Let your child know you're there to help them get through this.
  • Remind them that these feelings won't last forever, and their feelings are normal.
  • Engage them in conversations about their daily life, such as school, friends, and activities.
  • Talk about positive events to look forward to.
  • Ask your child's permission to seek professional help.


  • Get frustrated with your child. Their anxiety isn't their fault.
  • Downplay the thing that's upsetting them. To them, it's a big deal.
  • Bring up negative experiences that have recently upset them.
  • Force your child to see a behavioral health specialist if they aren't ready.

It's important for parents and guardians to understand that some of the anxiety and stress your child is experiencing is normal.

From recognizing the signs to developing an at-home strategy, parents have a huge influence on making a difference. Be sure to watch out for signs that your child may need to receive additional help from medical professionals.

For more information and resources on how to help your child or teen who is struggling with emotions, visit UPMC Children's Community Pediatrics website.