Child Stress Responses

As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker specializing in child and adolescent anxiety and anger management, I talk about stress... a lot. I co-developed curriculum and presented to schools throughout the St. Louis area on Becoming Trauma Informed Schools - helping teachers recognize stress responses in their students and building interventions to use to best support their students.

Stress responses impact emotional and behavioral health in a few ways. 

Physiologically, a stress response leads to increased heart rate, breath rate, pupil dilation, and muscle tension. Your child’s adrenal glands are pumping to prepare them for a fight, flight, or freeze response. It’s a healthy activation. 

What happens with repeated stressors?

But when this stress response gets activated again and again, it becomes maladaptive on the body’s long term health. A higher amount of adverse childhood experiences (stressors) is linked to a greater chance of cancer, drug use, stroke and heart attacks. 

Primed to fight, run away, or freeze:

Emotionally, if you’re always on edge, always prepared for the worst, you’re prone to angry, anxious outbursts. So I often have parents calling me about their preschooler’s anger problems, or their 10 year old consistently getting into trouble in class, but really their child has a huge amount of anxiety and stress that leads to the angry response. 

What can parents do?

Seek out additional help and resources, along with, on the home-front, practicing relaxation skills. Regular relaxation skills building can help counteract the negative health effects of continual stress. And make sure to address your own stress levels as well!

Stressed out teen? Angry child? Kelsey is a child and adolescent anxiety expert, working with kids, teens, and college students. Email her at to hear more about her approach and talk through if counseling is the best next step for your family. Kelsey provides counseling in Clayton, and works with families in Brentwood, Creve Couer, Town and Country, University City, and surrounding areas.