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Understanding Stress – Parents

Breathe tools

Version for parents

Did you know that…:

  1. Stress is necessary in life and has allowed our species to survive!
  2. Stressors are always present in everyone’s lives.
  3. Stress is a body’s normal reaction to stressors in the environment or to how we interpret them.
  4. Stress is useful. Good stress management increases concentration and memory.
  5. Only chronic stress can have negative health effects.
  6. It is clear that the younger children are, the more vulnerable they are to adults’ badly managed stress because they don’t have the ability to control the situations nor the strategies to reduce the novelty and unpredictability.

Stress is simply a hormonal reaction. It is the trigger factor and the way of managing this stress that can be positive or negative.

Stress is contagious. If adults properly manage their own stress, they reduce the possible impacts on their children, no matter their ages.

Understanding STRESS better

Absolute Stress

Absolute stress is that which occurs as a reaction to an exceptional trigger related to a question of survival. Examples? A car accident, an assault, encountering a wild animal, or a fire alarm.

Relative Stress

Relative stress comes from our interpretation of a situation. It differs from one person to another. For examples, a schedule change, an oral, a test, a substitute teacher, a change of group, a death, or parents’ separation.

For a situation to be stressful, it must be associated with one or more characteristic factors. These are:

NOVELTYSomething new happens that you have never experienced before.
UNPREDICTABILITYSomething completely unexpected happens or there is no way of knowing in advance what is going to happen.
THREAT TO THE EGOYour skills and self-esteem are put to the test. You doubt yourself or your abilities.
SENSE OF CONTROLYou feel that you have little or no control of the situation.
To help you remember: N.U.T.S.

Symptoms and signs

Depending on the individual and their age, the symptoms can vary and they manifest themselves in different ways.

  • Sudden change in behaviour.
  • Stomach aches, headaches, nausea, change in appetite.
  • Feeling of sadness (crying, withdrawal).
  • Hot flashes, blushing
  • Irritability, impatience, difficulty managing emotions.
  • Problems sleeping.
  • Reduced concentration, attention or memorization.
  • Crises (crying, impulsivity, etc.).
  • Avoiding stressful situations and refusing to participate.

Why is stress management important?

  • When we are not equipped to manage stress, chronic stress can set in.
  • The accumulation of several stressors can increase the level of stress and the complexity of managing it.
  • Many studies have shown that, when parents act to reduce the novelty and unpredictability experienced by their children, they can increase their children’s feeling of control and, by extension, reduce their stress.


Taken from Crevale, La Trousse Saine gestion du stress (The Healthy Stress Management Kit). Adapted by the CISSS des Laurentides Public Health Department.

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