Symptoms of Anxiety in Children

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If you've come to this page, you are probably looking for help with symptoms of anxiety in children.  This is one of the most common things I have worked with over the last 24 years.  Frequently, a parent will bring their child in because they know something is wrong, but they can’t quite figure out what it is. I guess that it’s not that surprising, considering I see the same thing with my adult clients. They may come in with a variety of symptoms, but unaware of the fact that they are experiencing an anxiety disorder.There are many different forms of anxiety disorders in children.  For  all of the anxiety disorders, when the symptoms begin  to impair the child's  ability to function in an important setting, such as  home, with friends, or at school, it's important to get help or try and learn how to help your child with information. Anxiety disorders in children  can be treated successfully in a variety of different ways. 

Where do symptoms of anxiety come from?


Learn all about causes of children's anxiety disorders here.

Children who have anxiety often have a genetic predisposition to it, have some stress in their lives that is challenging for them to deal with.  As a parent, its important to realize that getting help early is a good thing, and your child is not suffering from anxiety because of something you did. The world is a stressful place for children these days. The sooner they learn how to manage their stress and anxiety, the better off they will be in life! Regardless of the specific kind of anxiety your child is dealing with, stress management techniques can be helpful.

Pages you can link to from this page will help you to understand more about what your child is dealing with. If you are looking for help for your child with anxiety this might be a place to start. If you are interested in finding out what might be the cause for your child’s anxiety, please click here.

Also you may find yourself in a position where you wonder about medication as an option for your child. Please click here to symptoms of anxiety in children  for information on child anxiety medication.

Also learn about about anxiety in teens here.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is excessive or unrealistic anxiety or worry over a variety of issues. A child with generalized anxiety disorder may worry about everything. They worry about things that have happened, things that are happening, and things that may happen in the future.

Symptoms of anxiety in children who have Generalized Anxiety Disorder  manifest  as follows:

  • They may spend hours doing and redoing homework or other tasks that peers would complete quickly.
  • They often put pressure on themselves to perform and are perfectionist.
  • They may tantrum or become angry about something with little provocation because they are trying to avoid their anxiety.
  • They may ask for reassurance frequently about their fears, but in some cases they may not talk about them at all.

They may experience:

  1. Tiredness
  2. Difficulty concentrating or irritability
  3. Muscle tension
  4. Sleep disturbance
  5. Feeling on edge
  • They may be thinking thoughts that exacerbate their anxiety.
  • They may be worrying over and over again about a whole variety of things.
  • They may start to feel hopeless or out of control
  • Click here for more information about generalized anxiety disorder in children

Panic Disorder/Panic Attack/Child Anxiety Attack

Panic attacks are not a very common anxiety disorder  in children but do occur occasionally.

They are more common in adolescents and may occur with agoraphobia, which is essentially fearfulness about leaving the safety of home or other comfort zones. Children or adolescents who are having a child anxiety attack may refuse to leave their homes and refuse to go to school. This often happens because a child has experienced a child anxiety attack or panic attack at school and then chooses to avoid that setting.

Panic attacks are distinguished from other kinds anxiety in children by the physical symptoms that accompany it.

Shortness of breath, pain, and intense fear often suddenly come over children who are having panic attacks. A child who is experiencing a panic attacks should be evaluated by a medical doctor to ensure there is no physical cause for the problem.

Then it is important for a child to get into therapy, preferably therapy with a strong CBT component. 


The CBT approach to panic disorder focuses on changing those thoughts and breaking the chain of events leading up to a child anxiety attack. CBT presupposes that the child’s thoughts cause the feelings and behaviors which lead to a child anxiety attack.  Some of the key components of this approach are discussed below. 


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the best researched treatment for panic disorder in kids and adults.

Education


A CBT approach to panic disorder requires that children and adolescents are educated about what can cause anxiety attacks. Below is an example of how panic disorder therapy can explain the physiology behind an anxiety attack in a child.

A long time ago when we lived with the dinosaurs in caves it was very important for us to keep safe because they could eat us. So when we saw a dangerous creature our body would react in a way that would cause us to be safe. We would get a lot of energy, our heart would beat faster, we would feel stronger and we would be able to do what we needed to do to keep ourselves alive. Even thought there are no dinosaurs, our body still can get confused and think it in danger when it isn’t. That is what happens to you when you have an attack. But we can teach your mind and your body that you are safe, because there really aren’t any more dangerous creatures. Are there dinosaurs at school? Are there wolves in your bedroom? Also, there are lots of other kids that have anxiety attacks. You are not the only one! There are also adults that come to get help for this, and the help works and they feel much better.


Depending on the child’s age, a CBT approach to panic disorder may also consist of bibliotherapy (reading stories) or art therapy to illustrate some of the above points. 
It is important to examine each child anxiety attack and help a child or adolescent figure out what the thoughts is that accompany the feelings and physical symptoms.

 Young children’s thoughts can often be uncovered through art work, while adolescents may prefer to verbally identify them.  A child can be told to   draw a picture of what happened during the attack. What was happening in their head and body? What kind of thoughts were they thinking? When taking a CBT approach to panic disorder, a therapist may also talk about the symptoms other kids have.   Talking about other kids who have a child panic attack helps kids to feel as if they are not so alone in this struggle.


Challenge the Thoughts 

After uncovering the child’s thoughts before and during a child panic attack, those thoughts must be challenged.  Is it really true that they will die if they have to go to school tomorrow?  This kind of challenging of thoughts may go on for several sessions until child is able to work through this and do it on their own.  Children have an amazing sense of resiliency and often respond quicker to these interventions than adults.

Parent Participation


Each child or adolescent is different, but often a parent needs to be involved in the entire therapy session. Some kids feel more comfortable spending time alone in therapy and then sharing what they have learned at the end of the session. This gives them a sense of accomplishment.

Exposure Therapy

A child anxiety attack has a strong physical component and, therefore, it is essential teach children and adolescents how to relax their body.  A CBT approach to panic disorder will require the therapist to reproduce the physical symptoms a child has during a child anxiety attack while in the therapy session.  This is called exposure therapy.  Kids through are taken through a series of steps to cause sensations that mimic the child anxiety attack, and then practice techniques to control those attacks. Younger children may require more sessions to help them become more familiar with their bodies. 

Childhood Separation Anxiety Disorder

Anxiousness is a normal part of growing up but this should lesson as the child grows older. If being apart from you is interfering in your child’s daily routine, success in school, or relationships with peers it may be a more serious issue.

In younger children common symptoms of separation anxiety include: crying, clinging, and panic upon separation from you.

In older children some signs of separation anxiety include: unrealistic worry about harm to loved ones, fear parents will not be there when they return home, reluctance to sleep alone, school refusal, stomachaches, headaches, or other physical symptoms.

Click here for information on separation anxiety during different ages

Learn about child separation anxiety

Click here for information on sleep problems in children with separation anxiety

Click here for information on separation anxiety treatment



Test Anxiety

Test anxiety has become a more common form of anxiety in children since standardized testing has become a tool used to determine whether kids will be promoted. Not always, but sometimes test anxiety can be a symptom of a larger problem. Please click here to find out about test anxiety in general . Please click here to find out about the causes of test anxiety  and  test anxiety tips and also information about school refusal.

Social Phobia or Social Anxiety

Social Phobia is one kind of anxiety disorder in children that is more common in adolescents than in young children. Symptoms of anxiety in children with social phobia may experience intense shyness uneasiness around strangers. When the desire to avoid strangers or people interferes in the development of normal social relatedness, it is abnormal. Social Phobia may also lead to isolation and depression in kids.

One type of social phobia is selective mutism in which the child is unable to speak in social situations. Often adults get angry with these children and punish them or try to make them talk, when in reality this is a manifestation of anxiety. This is a disorder that actually begins in very young children but may extend in some cases into adolescence. Please click here for more information on social anxiety in a child. 

Specific Phobia

Symptoms of anxiety in children who have a specific phobia look like intense fears of a circumstance that poses no real danger. Phobias are common among young children and usually not debilitating. In most cases they are outgrown and do not require treatment. However, if a specific phobia in a child becomes debilitating or interferes in the normal daily routine or success at school and with peers, it may require treatment

OCD in Children

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one of the most debilitating forms of an anxiety disorder in children in children. OCD consists of constant obsessions (worry thoughts) and compulsions (worry rituals) that cause children who have a great deal of trouble functioning. It makes their day to day life and your life exhausting

Symptoms of anxiety in children : PTSD and other Trauma Reactions


Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a reaction we see in some children who have experienced a trauma where they felt there life or someone else’s was in danger. Symptoms of anxiety in children who have  PTSD can consist of flashbacks to the trauma, avoidance of things that remind the child of the trauma, disturbed sleep and nightmares and physical symptoms of heightened arousal when reminded of the trauma. Post traumatic stress disorder is often associated with or sexual abuse sexual abuse.

Check out our online facebook support community for parents of kids with mood disorders 

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