Anxiety Symptoms in Children
A child will have many experiences that can make them feel scared or worried. A certain level of anxiety is normal, and even healthy, for everyone including children. When anxiety or worry becomes excessive, affecting a child’s everyday life, is when it becomes an issue.
What is Anxiety in Children?
Anxiety is not always a problem, and can even be helpful in certain situations. For example, if you feel a certain level of anxiety before a test, it can help you be better prepared. Anxiety is also what allows our body to have the fight or flight reaction in the event of perceived or actual danger.
It is normal for a child to feel a certain amount of anxiety, even more so than adults, because they are trying to make sense of the world around them. It is normal for a child to be worried when changing school, if they have a test, or if they have an important sporting event. It becomes an issue when children feel a lot of distress that disrupts their day-to-day life.
Among children, anxiety is the most commonly diagnosed mental illness. It is possible for children to have a combination of anxiety and another mental illness or more than one type of anxiety.
Childhood anxiety disorders include:
- General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – worrying more than normal about school work, family problems, performance in sports and their relationships with peers.
- Panic Disorder – has unexpected panic attack that has no real explanation
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – obsessive thoughts that cause compulsive behaviors like counting everything or excessively washing hands.
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – develops after a child has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event.
- Separation anxiety disorder – when separated from the parent, the child reacts negatively and is inconsolable.
- Social anxiety disorder – extreme fears related to participating in class or socializing with peers.
- Selective mutism – child will refuse to talk in certain situations
- Specific phobias – an irrational fear of objects or situations
What Are Anxiety Symptoms in Children?
A lot of times, we tend to attribute certain behaviors to kids just being kids. It can be hard to recognize whether the anxiety signs you are seeing in your child is considered an anxiety disorder. Anxiety presents itself in many ways, and it’s different for every child. Looking out for physical, emotional and behavioral signs of anxiety will help you know if you need to consult a medical professional.
Physical Anxiety Signs:
- Often complains of headaches and or stomachaches that cannot be explained otherwise
- Will refuse to use the bathroom if they are not at home
- Does not want to eat when they are at school or daycare
- Has a hard time falling asleep, or won’t sleep through the night
- Trembling and perspiration in stressful situations
- Is restless, fidgety, or distracted
- Grinds teeth, tenses muscles constantly
Emotional Anxiety Signs:
- Is often sad and cries often
- Is very sensitive and easily hurt
- Can be very irritable, getting mad for no apparent reason
- Is always worried about making mistakes
- Has panic attacks
- Has many fears
- Excessive worry about things in their future, like starting a new school year
- Has nightmares
- Has a lot of meltdowns or tantrums
Behavioral Anxiety Signs:
- Will ask a lot of “what if” questions, for example, “what if our house catches fire”
- Does not participate in classroom activities
- When working as part of a group, will withdraw themselves and not talk
- Does not want to go to school
- During recess or lunch, they keep to themselves and don’t play with their peers
- Does not want to participate in sports clubs or social clubs
- Does not want to attend friends’ birthday parties or other activities
- Will react negatively to being separated from a parent or other caregiver
- Always needs to be reassured
- Says they can’t do something when there is no reason why they couldn’t
- Does not want to speak to certain people such as waitresses in restaurants
As you can see, anxiety can have many different symptoms and affects each child differently. These are some of the signs you can look out for, but if you suspect your child may have an anxiety disorder, it won’t hurt to speak to your family doctor. He will be able to evaluate the situation and refer you to a mental health specialist who can further diagnose and treat the issue.