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Oct 17

U is for Under Pressure

Posted on October 17, 2022 at 12:16 PM by Kari Bray

This is Part 21 in a multi-week series of blogs focused on the ABC’s for Healthy Kids. Learn more at

Top Three Take-Aways: 

  1. Childhood stress can have lifelong impacts, but so can the lessons learned in how to cope with challenges.
  2. There are many techniques and ideas to help young people handle pressure. Remember that you are modeling habits for them – good or bad.
  3. Believe children or teens if they express that they are struggling with mental health. Serious concerns like depression or anxiety are not limited to adults.

Children’s mental health, traumatic childhood experiences, and how they are supported (or not supported) through those can have a large and lifelong impact on their overall health.

Stressors that impact children can be different than what adults experience. Parents or caregivers sometimes lose sight of how much pressure young people are under. Children and teens may experience significant stress at home, at school, in personal relationships, in their activities, and due to events in their community. They also go through many of the things adults do, just from a different perspective. For example, a divorce or separation causes strain and pain for the adults as well as for the children involved, but in different ways. 

Kids also are still learning how to express themselves, cope with strong emotions, and set boundaries, so it’s not uncommon for them to become overwhelmed. Add to that growing up, going through puberty, and tackling other major milestones for kids and teens – and there is a lot going on.

You also may have heard about adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs. These are childhood events that have been proven to impact individuals long-term and often lead to additional traumatic experiences for them or their children. They include physical, emotional or sexual abuse, physical or emotional neglect, parental divorce or separation, witnessing violence at home, having a family member incarcerated, having substance use in their home, and having a household member with mental illness. 

Reducing the number of ACEs in a child’s life, as well as ensuring support for children who do experience trauma, is essential.

Ideas to help children build resilience

Any trusted adult in a child’s life can help them through these challenges. Work with them on healthy coping strategies. It’s good to start introducing these with smaller stressors, if possible, so that children can build skills to use for harder times. 

  • U_Under Pressure_Managing StressDeep breathing. Work with children on slow, deep breathing, also known as belly breathing. There are multiple types of deep breathing exercises. An easy one is to breathe in through your nose and make sure you feel your whole torso filling up, all the way down through your belly. Hold that breath for four seconds, then slowly breathe out. Repeat as needed. Among other things, this can help ease that heart-racing, panicky, jittery feeling that often accompanies too much mental or emotional pressure.
  • What is it they’re feeling? Help children and teens pause to identify and name their feelings. Encourage them to stop and soak in a few moments of silence when they aren’t sure how they feel, or when they are too overloaded with emotions to parse them out easily. Support them as they learn to pay attention to what their bodies and their feelings are telling them. Often, taking the time to call out your feelings – “I’m really angry about this” or “I feel betrayed” or “I’m scared that everything is changing” – is the first big step in easing the pressure of those feelings.
  • Get outside. Open space, fresh air, and just stepping away from some of their stressors can do a lot for kids. Movement helps, too. A walk, a jog, or even just a big stretch while standing outside can help shift focus and change the tone when children and teens are having a hard time. Needing space is a normal part of coping with something, and taking it outside can help fulfill that need in a literal sense.
  • Encourage them to do something. Anything. It doesn’t have to be much. Sometimes, when people are under a lot of pressure, they freeze. It all becomes a bit too much. This can come out in teens as “I can’t do anything right, anyway, so why even try?” In younger kids, it can be “I don’t want to” or “I can’t do it,” even when you know they can. So get them started with any healthy activity. They can write, draw, make a craft, sing, dance, read a book. Maybe it’s just getting them out of bed to take a shower before you worry about next steps, or deciding on something that sounds good to eat that you can go get or make together. 
  • Vent a little. It’s OK. The classic “don’t bottle it all up” holds true. Help kids and teens find ways to vent without harming themselves or others. Remember that it doesn’t have to be pretty. They can scribble instead of color. Yell into a pillow. Turn up the music in their room and belt their favorite song out of tune and at the top of their lungs. Write up an angry letter, cry, and tear it into tiny pieces. Help them find what works for them to have an outlet in a non-destructive way.
  • Show don’t tell. Remember that kids learn from what you say, but they learn even more from what you do. If they see you coping in unhealthy ways with your emotions, that will resonate more than anything you tell them. Model resilience in yourself. Learn your own healthy strategies. Show them that it’s OK to scribble all over a piece of paper, whip up a big batch of comfort food, or belt out your favorite song – which is probably totally uncool to them, but that’s OK, too. Catch yourself before you even joke about things like drowning your feelings with alcohol or lighting up a cigarette when you’re stressed. They’re learning from you.

Believe them, and ask for help

Even young children can experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. Mental health crises are not limited to adults – and neither is mental health care. 

Think about your child’s mental health much the way you think about their physical health. If they badly sprained their ankle and struggled to walk without pain, you would take them in for a doctor’s appointment. If they are experiencing depression and struggling to sleep, eat, or go about their day without pain, you should seek help for that, as well.Sad or stressed young boy with head in hands

If you’re not sure how to tell if your child or teen is struggling with mental health, the first piece of advice is to believe them. Believe them if they say they are having a hard time. Don’t dismiss their concerns as something temporary if they express that they regularly experience symptoms of anxiety or depression. Believe their actions, too. If they are behaving out of character, losing joy in things they previously appreciated, distancing from friends and family, or otherwise causing your parent instincts to go into overdrive, make sure you check in with them. Let them know that it is OK to ask for help, and that you are willing to do what you can to help find the right support for them.

In Washington state, health plans that include medical and surgical services must cover medically necessary mental health services, as well, according to the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner. If you or your child is uninsured, you can learn more about finding free or low-cost health coverage at

There’s a variety of information and other resources available, as well. A few are listed below, but don’t forget that there may be resources specific to your family or community, such as mental health support through school programs, community organizations, faith communities, or connections made by talking to your child’s pediatrician or regular healthcare provider.

Take some time now to check off the “U” in the ABC’s for healthy kids. Do you know what pressures your child is experiencing, and how to help?

Childhood mental health has lifelong impacts on the health of individuals, their family, and their community.