Your four-year-old has a hard time getting along with others at preschool. Your preteen isn’t eating their lunch all the way and doesn’t have an appetite at the dinner table. Your teen’s moodiness has entered uncharted territory. These might be signs of short-lived phases, but they could also be indicators of clinical stress and anxiety. Dr. Andres Viana, assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Houston, explains that intense stress is brought on by varying situations that differ by age group.

“Some kids will exhibit sleep problems and wake up in the middle of the night,” says Viana. “Parents should take note in any changes of weight as the child may not be eating well or eating too much. Kids will get cranky and are more likely to talk back for no reason.” Kids under stress also become withdrawn and impose limits on their interactions with friends and even parents.

Middle school offers a new set of challenges for adolescents. Academic performance starts to become a major concern at this age, and the pressure to fit in and make friends can lead to nail-biting situations. Social-related fears, like pleasing a best friend or wanting to be physically attractive, become key sources of stress, too.

Teenagers are often shaken to the core by the awkward practices of dating, and the social-related fears begin to shift into worries about the future. “Teenagers will start to wonder about their place in life, and what type of career they will want to pursue,” says Viana.

Though experiencing some level of stress is a natural part of growing up, chronic stress can be debilitating and should not be taken lightly. “From a psychological point of view, stress can take a toll on your cardiovascular system and is associated with inflammation of the body,” says Viana. Stress also drains the immune system, putting children and teenagers at greater risk for illness.

But just as stress can be felt by kids and adults alike, it can also be managed in all age groups. Parents can perform relaxation exercises with their young ones, such as breathing and progressive muscle relaxation techniques. Older children and teenagers can benefit from cognitive and thought process strategies that help them to zero in on what is causing their stress and to put the issue in more realistic terms, rather than catastrophizing it.

Still, one of the best and simplest ways to help your child manage their stress is to always keep an open line of communication with them, no matter what the age group. “Talking about their daily lives and how they’re doing in school gives a window into their current state,” Viana says. “It’s important to convey the message, it’s OK to talk to me.”

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