The Value of Play to Reduce Stress in Children

very happy child playing with colorful toys

Play is Powerful

Childhood stress can be experienced in any situation that requires a child to adapt or change. In small amounts, stress can provide a positive change, as well as a chance to learn something new. But if a child experiences excessive stress, it can affect their emotional, mental, and physical well being.

Stress and anxiety about unfamiliar routines or uncertainty about current world events can be overwhelming and cause new strong emotions in young kids. Every child’s needs are unique, resulting in different responses to stressful situations. One child may have a much harder time adjusting to new routines while others in the same household acclimate much easier.

As caretakers, our responsibility is to provide children with a safe and supportive environment to learn and grow. Learning to identify the signs of stress in your children is the first step to finding healthy ways to reduce it.

Signs of Stress in Children

Young children may not understand the way they are feeling is an emotional response, and that can also make it hard for adults to see their actions or behaviors as symptoms of something more serious like stress. 

Stress can manifest in a number of ways including physically, emotionally, and behaviorally.

Physical Signs of Stress in Children Can Include:

  • Headaches 
  • Stomach aches 
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Bedwetting
  • Nightmares
  • Hives 
  • and much more

Behavioral and Emotional Signs of Stress in Children Can Include:

  • Teeth clenching 
  • Anger or frustration
  • Increased crying or whining 
  • Mood swings 
  • Clinginess
  • General worry 
  • Withdrawal
  • Violence 
  • and much more

When to Contact a Professional About Childhood Stress 

If you are noticing that their child is simply not themselves these days, or that your attempts to help have not been effective, reaching out for additional assistance is important. If you believe your child is suffering from an anxiety disorder, panic attacks, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) contact a licensed mental health provider immediately.

Reducing Stress in Children Through the Power of Play


Much like we unwind after a long day with our favorite hobbies, children find normalcy and comfort in playtime. At school, children benefit greatly from being allowed to free play during recess time, and are able to easily return to their scheduled curriculum after a break. 

Reintroducing structure to their day can bring many children comfort that they could be missing while social distance learning. It is important for part of this new daily routine to include time for play. 

During playtime, children are allowed to express their energy in healthy ways by utilizing their bodies and minds to be creative and imaginative. Free play can be an important opportunity for many children to release any built-up energy or stress throughout the day.

The Benefits of Step-Aside Play for Children

The purpose of step-aside play — or free play — is to allow kids to experience the ability of directing their own activities. This unstructured playtime is a great learning tool for children to learn how to interact with new things, and develop an understanding of how things work on their own – through play!

Consider the activities that make your child feel safe, happy, and comfortable, and how you can help recreate those experiences at home. Giving your child the space and tools they need to manage their own playtime can create opportunities for them to discover their own ways of burning off steam, and develop their own healthy coping skills. 

Learn more about the benefits of Step Aside Play, and some ways you can introduce more free playtime at home with our blog the PLAYology Playbook!

At Home Play and Additional Family Resources for Children from CMOSC 

The Children’s Museum of Sonoma County strives to continue to provide valuable resources to our community. Along with our blog posts, our YouTube channel is full of DIY activities for inspiration and read-aloud videos for winding down. Stay connected for more at-home play tips and the latest museum news!

You can also sign up for our newsletter to get regular updates from the Children’s Museum. Our emails contain our latest At-Home Activities, educational resources, and fun videos.

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