Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on November 23, 2022
Stress Trigger: Too Little Down Time

Stress Trigger: Too Little Down Time


A hectic life can affect your family's health. Studies show that long-lasting stress can cause the body to make too much cortisol, a hormone that can ramp up appetite -- and lead to overeating. Stress can also make you want to turn to food for comfort.

For relief: Encourage your family to build relaxation into every day. Even 10 minutes counts. Flip through magazines, sit and talk, or take a relaxing walk -- anything to help you pause and switch gears.

Stress Trigger: Too Little Sleep

Stress Trigger: Too Little Sleep


It can make anyone tired and cranky. It also slows your metabolism and boosts appetite. That means you're more likely to overeat, make unhealthy food choices, and stay inactive.

For relief: Get everyone to bed! Set a soothing routine -- like reading a book -- and a regular bedtime that helps everyone get the hours they need for their age:

  • Kids 6 and younger: 11 to 13
  • Grade schoolers: 10 or 11
  • Teens: 8 to 10
  • Adults: 8 or so


Stress Trigger: Money Troubles

Stress Trigger: Money Troubles


When you're stressed about finances, your kids can be, too. Maybe it's because they are missing extras like movies or new shoes -- but for younger kids, it just may be that they sense something's wrong.

For relief: Be open about day-to-day concerns, but stay upbeat: “An out-of-town vacation won't happen this year, but let's plan something fun around here.” Let them know things are going to be OK in the long run.

Stress Trigger: Fighting Parents

Stress Trigger: Fighting Parents


When parents fight, kids get tense. That's especially true with kids 10 and younger, whose sense of security is still based around home.

For relief: If your child gets upset from hearing an argument between you and your partner, acknowledge it. Remind them that everyone argues sometimes -- and what's important is that you'll work it out.

Stress Triggers: Stressed-Out Parents

Stress Triggers: Stressed-Out Parents


Your kids will learn to respond to stress the same way you do. They mimic how you stay up too late, eat on the go, or just get irritable.

For relief: Show your kids how to handle stress by dealing with your own pressures in a healthy way. Acknowledge when life feels hectic, and make a point to relax and take care of yourself. You'll set a good example, and feel better, too.

Stress Triggers: Friends

Stress Triggers: Friends


When kids reach third or fourth grade, they base much of their self-worth on friends. So hurt feelings or bullying can be very stressful for them.

For relief: Pay attention if your kids complain their friends are “mean” or if they start acting irritably. Keep communication lines open so you know what's going on in their lives. If you notice they're very sad or no longer socializing, talk with a health professional.

Stress Trigger: School

Stress Trigger: School


In our competitive society, even young kids can worry about doing well in class or keeping up in sports and activities.

For relief: Help your child find activities they are good at or enjoys, and encourage them to try hard, keep practicing, and celebrate small successes. For schoolwork, help them keep organized. Try making weekly lists and checking items off so they see how much they have accomplished.

Stress Trigger: Boredom

Stress Trigger: Boredom


Kids crave structure and stimulation, so having nothing to do after school can make them restless. Then they can end up making poor choices -- like eating junk food and spending too much time on video games or the computer.

For relief: An after-school program and regular physical activities for an hour or so each day can give just enough structure to offer kids healthy downtime in the afternoons.

Stress Trigger: Irregular Eating

Stress Trigger: Irregular Eating


Skipping meals or replacing them with snacks makes it hard for kids to keep up their energy all day.

For relief: Stick to three meals and two snacks a day -- that works for most families. Plus, studies show that when kids eat with the family several times a week, they tend to be happier and eat healthier, too.

Stress Trigger: Changes in Routine at Home

Stress Trigger: Changes in Routine at Home


Kids younger than 6 can't talk about stress yet. They just act out when things feel wrong. Any change in routine -- a new school, a move, a new job for Mom or Dad -- can turn their world upside down. That can stress parents or siblings, too.

For relief: Stick to a few daily rituals: meals at specific times, a standing story time, or an afternoon walk. Kids who know what to expect feel more at ease, and so will everyone else.

Stress Trigger: Too Much Screen Time

Stress Trigger: Too Much Screen Time


Video games, TV, or social media may seem like down time, but screens aren't as relaxing as reading a book or talking with someone. Plus, screen time often leads to idle snacking.

For relief: Limit your family's screen time to 2 hours a day. And don't allow eating in front of the TV. When you're distracted, you don't think about portion size, how full you feel, or family communication.

Stress Trigger: Multitasking

Stress Trigger: Multitasking


Teens may seem happy and calm while texting their friends, listening to music, and doing homework all at once. But multitasking is more tiring and stressful than you'd think.

For relief: Talk to your teens about concentrating on one activity at a time and how to choose to do it. It's a great chance to help them cut back on screen time, too.

Show Sources



  1. Leland Bobbe / Photodisc
  2. Derek E. Rothchild / Workbook Stock
  3. Image Source
  4. STOCK4B-RF / altrendo images
  5. Commercial Eye / Iconica
  6. Radius Images/Corbis
  7. Zigy Kaluzny / Stone
  8. Inti St Clair / Blend Images
  9. Tim Hall / Digital Vision
  10. Jessie Jean / Taxi
  11. Rob Melnychuk / Digital Vision
  12. John Lund/Marc Romanelli / Blend Images



American Academy of Pediatrics.

Barton, S. Plants and Human Culture, Nov. 18, 2008.

Bose, M. Diabetes & Obesity, October 2009.

Dan Kirschenbaum, PhD, director, Center for Behavioral Medicine; professor, Northwestern University Medical School; clinical director of weight loss program, The Academy of the Sierras.

Ed Abramson, PhD, professor of psychology, California State University, Chico.

Eisenberg, M. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, October 2004.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Knutson, K. Sleep Medicine Clinics, June 2007.

Lawrence E. Shapiro, PhD, author, The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook for Kids.

Margaret Marino, PhD, Boston University School of Medicine.

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center.

Washington State University.