Good stress vs. bad stress for kids

By Jerome Schultz, PhD

At a glance

  • Good stress is when kids confront a challenge they believe they can rise to.

  • Bad stress happens when kids face a problem they think they can’t solve or succeed at.

  • When kids have support, they’re more likely to feel good stress.

When people say they’re stressed, it’s usually not a good thing. But stress isn’t always bad. There’s good stress, too — and it can help kids rise to challenges, solve problems, and build confidence.

Nature gave us the ability to spot danger and respond to it. When faced with dangerous situations, our bodies and brains kick into fight-or-flight mode. But we don’t like to stay in that state for long. We like to deal with danger quickly so we can feel safe again.

Our body’s ability to deal with stress helps us do just that. Our stress response system gets our brain and body ready to solve problems and tackle challenges. And when we overcome the problem, our brain “feels good” and remembers our successes.

Kids can experience both good and bad stress when faced with challenges. When kids are supported or have had success in the past, they are more likely to feel good. On the other hand, kids who have experienced a lot of failure often feel bad stress. 

When we provide kids with support, we can help them feel good stress and build their resilience and confidence.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Jerome Schultz, PhD is a clinical neuropsychologist and lecturer in the Harvard Medical School Department of Child Psychiatry.