Helping Children Cope with Stress in Child Care

Angry todler

Stress is a part of life and can be found all around us. Child care is no exception. There is good stress and bad stress. Stress can motivate us to get things, but too much stress can make our lives seem too hectic and overwhelming. Remember that children feel stress just as adults do. Child Care providers should be aware of the stressors each child is experiencing, and should be active in helping children in their child care programs manage and cope with stress. 

Causes of Stress for Children in Child Care

A large variety of situations can cause children to feel stress in child care.  Child care providers should keep an eye out for these situations so that they can identify stress in children and help them cope with the stress as quickly as possible.  The following are examples of stressful situations children in child care may experience:

  • changes in routines
  • a new child care setting
  • conflic with peers or bullying
  • lack of sleep
  • overcrowded child care settings
  • a new sibling
  • loss of a loved one  
  • conflict at home
  • deployment of family member

Basic Ways of Coping with Stress

Both children and adults need to learn how to manage stress effectively. Here are some ways to cope with stress in the child care setting.

  • get enough sleep, and be sure children are sleeping regularly
  • eat healthy meals and build in physical activity each day
  • find quiet time to relax each day
  • make an effort to accept what you cannot change
  • take one thing at a time, and encourage children to do the same
  • talk with friends about your stress
  • give children safe, appropriate ways to release their own stress

Child's hand with paint brush

Stress-Relieving Activities for Children in Child Care

Young children do not automatically know how to handle their stress. Child care providers can teach appropriate stress management by suggesting some of the following activities.


  • Paper ripping – Let children have a “ripping good time” with old newspapers or magazines. They can crumple paper into balls and throw the balls all over. The balls are soft and safe. End the activity by throwing the balls into a basket or box for clean-up time.
  • Finger painting – Cover your table with an old shower curtain, plastic table cloth, or newspaper. Give children a large piece of paper and some finger paint. Child care providers should join in the fun. Use fingers, hands, and even elbows for painting a picture.
  • Active play – Make sure children have active play every day–even child caregivers should participate. Running, climbing activities and playing ball are good ways to be active and to relieve stress.
  • Laughter – Take time to be silly and laugh together with your children. Sing silly songs, read funny poems or stories, or just “goof around” with each other.

For More Information

To learn more about helping young children handle their emotions and get along with others, take a look at the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles: