Common Childhood Anxiety Symptoms All Parents Should Know About (2023)

Children with anxiety may not exhibit symptoms in quite the same way as adults. For example, they may display anger or irritability in addition to fear and worry.

It's understandable that parents would worry about their child's anxiety, but it's important to know that some childhood anxiety is normal and expected. Still, some kids do have anxiety disorders. Fortunately, there are things that parents can do to help their kids get treatment and cope with feelings of anxiety.

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Common Childhood Worries

There are a number of things that normally cause worry and anxiety for kids of different ages. New situations, challenging tasks, and even unfamiliar people can lead to fear and anxiety in children from time to time.

Other age-appropriate fears include:

  • Stranger anxiety beginning at 7 to 9 months of age and resolving around age 3
  • Fear of the dark, monsters, insects, and animals in preschoolers
  • Fear of heights or storms in younger school-age children
  • Worry about school and friends in older school-age children and teens

These childhood fears are normal and typically lessen on their own as a child grows older. It takes more than occasional anxiety, which can be normal, to indicate true symptoms of an anxiety disorder.

Signs and Symptoms in Children With Anxiety

As much as it is common to have occasional anxiety, it is also common for children to have anxiety disorders. While estimates of the prevalence vary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 7.1% of children between the ages of 3 and 17 have diagnosable anxiety.

Children with true anxiety symptoms may experience symptoms that include:

  • Anger or aggression
  • Avoiding certain situations
  • Bedwetting
  • Changes in appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Getting in trouble at school
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Nervous habits such as nail-biting
  • Nightmares
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Restlessness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Stomach aches
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)

The frequency and appearance of symptoms can vary depending on the nature of the anxiety. Some fears (such as social anxiety or a phobia) may be triggered by specific situations, objects, or settings. Other types of anxiety, such as generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder, can lead to symptoms that occur with greater frequency.

Other indicators of concern include symptoms that interfere with a child's ability to learn, interact with peers, sleep at night, or function normally in daily life.

Normal childhood fears that persist beyond the age where they are expected to fade (such as being afraid of the dark or being away from parents past the preschool age) are also a point of concern.

Types of Childhood Anxiety

Like adults, children can also have other anxiety disorders, which range from separation anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)to panic attacks. Some signs of anxiety are easier to spot, but other anxiety disorders can be a little harder to detect.

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Some of the different types of childhood anxiety include:

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety involves an exaggerated fear of being separated from parents and caregivers. This type of anxiety is common in young children but usually begins to abate once a child is around 3 or 4. Symptoms of separation anxiety are usually fairly easy to spot and involve refusing to go anywhere without the parent or caregiver, refusing to sleep alone, or refusing to go to school.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

As part of a diagnosis of a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), a child should have evidence of excessive fear and worry (which can appear as the symptoms above) for six months or more, and they should be triggered by more than one thing, such as being anxious about work, school, and friends.

Also, a child with a generalized anxiety disorder will have trouble controlling their feelings of worry and it will cause them distress and some kind of impairment. For example, they may be so irritable from not sleeping that they are having trouble keeping their friends or their grades are dropping because they can't concentrate.

Children with generalized anxiety disorder may also have somatic symptoms, such as headaches, abdominal pain, and muscle aches and pains.

Specific Phobias

In addition to a generalized anxiety disorder, children can have more specific phobias.​ They become anxious and worried, but only about very specific triggers, such as a thunderstorm, spiders, being left alone, or going in a swimming pool, etc.

Although these children may cry and may cling to their parents if they are around or think they will be around something they are really afraid of, fortunately, most kids outgrow this type of anxiety disorder.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Children with OCD may have either recurrent intrusive thoughts (obsessions) about certain things often along with repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions) that they perform, such as washing their hands a lot, checking things over and over, or repeating certain words or phrases to themselves in response to the obsessions.

Panic Attacks

Although uncommon in children, panic attacks are another type of anxiety disorder that does become more common in later teen years. In addition to intense fear or discomfort, the definition of a panic attack requires four or more of the following symptoms:

  • A feeling of unreality (derealization) or being detached from oneself (depersonalization)
  • Chest pain
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling choked
  • Fear of losing control
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Nausea or abdominal pain
  • Numbness or tingling (paresthesias)
  • Palpitations or a fast heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Shaking

Selective Mutism

Of all of the anxiety disorders in children, selective mutism is perhaps the one that is most commonly overlooked, as people think these children are just extremely shy. Children with selective mutism actually refuse to talk and may only talk to close family members at home. At school or in other situations, they often become anxious and very uncomfortable when they are expected to talk.

Help a Child With Anxiety

Fortunately, anxiety disorders are treatable conditions. If anxiety symptoms are interfering with your child's normal daily activities, talk to your child'spediatrician, a child psychologist, and/or a child psychiatrist. For school-age kids, a school guidance counselor can also offer support, advice, and a referral for further evaluation and treatment.

It is also important to note that just as with adult women, girls experience anxiety at about twice the rate as boys. Because anxiety tends to grow worse if left untreated, experts suggest that all girls age 13 and older should be screened for anxiety during routine health exams.

There are also things that parents can do at home to help children learn how to manage their feelings of anxiety. Tactics that may help:

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  • Don't avoid what your child fears. While this may offer short-term relief, using avoidance as a coping mechanism reinforces the anxiety and worsens it over time.
  • Offer comfort and model positive responses. Listen to your child's concerns, but be careful not to reinforce these fears. Instead, help your child practice relaxation techniques while modeling appropriate, non-fearful responses to the source of your child's anxiety.
  • Help your child learn to tolerate their fear. Allowing your child to be gradually exposed to the source of their fear while using relaxation techniques to calm their fear response can help them learn to tolerate distress and eventually learn that there is nothing to fear.

The ways that parents cope with anxiety can affect the way children deal with their fears. While parents should not pretend that they don't have anxiety, they should focus on showing kids that it is something that can be calmly tolerated and effectively managed.

If your child is struggling with an anxiety disorder, contact theSubstance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helplineat1-800-662-4357for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see ourNational Helpline Database.

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8 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Stanford Children's Health. Separation anxiety.

  2. Freidl EK, Stroeh OM, Elkins RM, Steinberg E, Albano AM, Rynn M. Assessment and treatment of anxiety among children and adolescents. Focus (Am Psychiatr Publ). 2017;15(2):144-156. doi:10.1176/appi.focus.20160047

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Anxiety and depression in children: Get the facts. Reviewed December 2, 2020.

  4. Gale CK, Millichamp J. Generalised anxiety disorder in children and adolescents. BMJ Clin Evid. 2016;2016:1002.

  5. Krebs G, Heyman I. Obsessive-compulsive disorder in children and adolescents. Arch Dis Child. 2015;100(5):495-9.doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2014-306934

  6. Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Anxiety disorders in children.

  7. Driessen J, Blom JD, Muris P, Blashfield RK, Molendijk ML. Anxiety in children with selective mutism: A meta-analysis. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. 2019. doi:10.1007/s10578-019-00933-1

  8. Gregory KD, Chelmow D, Nelson HD, et al.Screening for anxiety in adolescent and adult women: A recommendation from the Women's Preventive Services Initiative.Ann Intern Med. 2020 Jul 7;173(1):48-56. doi:10.7326/M20-0580

(Video) Childhood Anxiety

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.

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FAQs

What is the most common anxiety disorder of childhood? ›

Separation anxiety is the most common anxiety disorder in children younger than 12.

What are the main causes of childhood anxiety? ›

Things that happen in a child's life can be stressful and difficult to cope with. Loss, serious illness, death of a loved one, violence, or abuse can lead some kids to become anxious. Learned behaviors. Growing up in a family where others are fearful or anxious also can "teach" a child to be afraid too.

How common is childhood anxiety? ›

By 2020, 5.6 million kids (9.2%) had been diagnosed with anxiety problems and 2.4 million (4.0%) had been diagnosed with depression. About 5 million kids also experienced behavior and conduct problems in 2020, a 21 percent increase from the previous year.

Can yelling at a child cause anxiety? ›

A 2014 study in The Journal of Child Development demonstrated that yelling produces results similar to physical punishment in children: increased levels of anxiety, stress and depression along with an increase in behavioral problems.

What are the types of childhood anxiety? ›

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Children and adolescents with generalized anxiety disorder have persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worries that are not focused on a specific object or situation. ...
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. ...
  • Panic Disorder. ...
  • Specific Phobias. ...
  • Social Phobia. ...
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder. ...
  • Selective Mutism.

What is the 3 3 3 rule for anxiety? ›

Follow the 3-3-3 rule.

Look around you and name three things you see. Then, name three sounds you hear. Finally, move three parts of your body — your ankle, fingers, or arm.

Can a parent cause anxiety in a child? ›

Overcontrolling parents may increase levels of worry and social anxiety in children as this parental behavior may communicate to youths that they do not have the skills to successfully navigate challenges in their environment, generally or in social situations, thereby causing the child to worry about his/her abilities ...

How do you discipline a high anxiety child? ›

10 Tips for Parenting Anxious Children
  1. Don't try to eliminate anxiety; do try to help a child manage it. ...
  2. Don't avoid things just because they make a child anxious. ...
  3. Express positive—but realistic—expectations. ...
  4. Respect her feelings, but don't empower them. ...
  5. Don't ask leading questions. ...
  6. Don't reinforce the child's fears.
29 Feb 2016

Are you born with anxiety or do you develop it? ›

Most researchers conclude that anxiety is genetic but can also be influenced by environmental factors. In other words, it's possible to have anxiety without it running in your family. There is a lot about the link between genes and anxiety disorders that we don't understand, and more research is needed.

Do children grow out of anxiety? ›

Fortunately, most children diagnosed with anxiety disorders will outgrow them, provided they live in supportive environments and get appropriate treatment.

What age does anxiety affect the most? ›

Adults ages 30 to 44 have the highest rate of anxiety of this age group, with around 23% of people this age reporting an anxiety disorder within the past year.

How do you help a child with anxiety? ›

Other ways to ease anxiety in children
  1. teach your child to recognise signs of anxiety in themselves.
  2. encourage your child to manage their anxiety and ask for help when they need it.
  3. children of all ages find routines reassuring, so try to stick to regular daily routines where possible.

What will happen if anxiety is not treated? ›

For the majority of people with undiagnosed or untreated anxiety disorder, there are many negative consequences, for both the individual and society. These include disability, reduced ability to work leading to loss of productivity, and a high risk of suicide.

What is depleted mother syndrome? ›

In a nutshell, Depleted Mother Syndrome (DMS) occurs when demands on the mother increase and her resources decrease. As a result the mother's sensitivity to both internal and external triggers gets heightened.

How an angry mother affects a child? ›

Children react to angry, stressed parents by not being able to concentrate, finding it hard to play with other children, becoming quiet and fearful or rude and aggressive, or developing sleeping problems. You should never physically hurt or punish your child, no matter what they have done or how angry you are.

Will my child remember me shouting? ›

Research. There is a bunch of research that is done on the effects of parenting and disciplining on kids of every age, but let me just save you the trouble, and let you know that NO. You are most likely not scarring your child for life when you yell at them or lose your cool every once in a while.

What is the best medication for a child with anxiety? ›

Antidepressants called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are the recommended first choice of medication for treating anxiety in children. That's because they have been shown to be the most effective, and they have relatively mild side effects. They are also the most commonly prescribed.

What are 5 symptoms of anxiety? ›

Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:
  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense.
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom.
  • Having an increased heart rate.
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating.
  • Trembling.
  • Feeling weak or tired.
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry.

Why does my child worry about everything? ›

Worry like this could be a sign of an anxiety disorder. If your child has worry, stress, or anxiety that seems too hard for them to handle, talk with your child's doctor or a mental health doctor. Childhood anxiety can get better with the right treatment and support.

What is high functioning anxiety? ›

Instead, high-functioning anxiety typically refers to someone who experiences anxiety while still managing daily life quite well. Generally, a person with high-functioning anxiety may appear put together and well- accomplished on the outside, yet experience worry, stress or have obsessive thoughts on the inside.

Which exercise is best for anxiety? ›

Research shows aerobic exercise is especially helpful. A simple bike ride, dance class, or even a brisk walk can be a powerful tool for those suffering from chronic anxiety.

What parenting style causes anxiety? ›

The children of authoritarian parents have been described as anxious, angry, aggressive, and having low self-esteem (Baumrind, 1966, 1967, 1971; Mac- coby & Martin, 1983). These findings suggest that negative parenting styles may in fact act as a risk factor for anxiety symptoms.

Do strict parents cause anxiety? ›

Repeated exposure to overly harsh and critical parenting may condition children to overreact to their mistakes, thereby increasing risk for anxiety disorders.

What kind of parents cause social anxiety? ›

Parenting factors of insecure parent–child attachment; negative parenting styles, such as overcontrol or criticism; and modeling social anxiety have been implicated in the development of SAD in children.

Should I push my anxious child? ›

Gently encourage your child to do things they're anxious about, but don't push them to face situations they don't want to face. Wait until your child actually gets anxious before you step in to help. Praise your child for doing something they're anxious about. Avoid criticising your child for being afraid or worried.

What is Behavioural anxiety? ›

The Behaviors of Anxiety

Thought behaviors are extremely common with anxiety, including things like: Negative self-talk (i.e. "I am going to embarrass myself.") Feeling as though you are going crazy. Convincing yourself something is wrong with you. Sleep disturbances.

When does anxiety turn into anger? ›

When anxiety turns to anger, it is because an individual who expresses anger will have an underlying fear about something in their life. When individuals are scared or worried about something, they often choose anger, unconsciously, as a way to feel as though they are in control of their anxiety.

What is the 3 3 3 rule for anxiety? ›

Follow the 3-3-3 rule.

Look around you and name three things you see. Then, name three sounds you hear. Finally, move three parts of your body — your ankle, fingers, or arm.

Does childhood anxiety go away? ›

Fortunately, most children diagnosed with anxiety disorders will outgrow them, provided they live in supportive environments and get appropriate treatment.

Is it possible to have anxiety since childhood? ›

Substantial research links untreated childhood anxiety with mental illness in adulthood, including not only ongoing anxiety but also depression and substance abuse. She adds that anxiety is the most common mental health problem in children and adults and the median age of onset is 11.

What are the 6 major types of anxiety disorders? ›

The five major types of anxiety disorders are:
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder. ...
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) ...
  • Panic Disorder. ...
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) ...
  • Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder)

What is high functioning anxiety? ›

Instead, high-functioning anxiety typically refers to someone who experiences anxiety while still managing daily life quite well. Generally, a person with high-functioning anxiety may appear put together and well- accomplished on the outside, yet experience worry, stress or have obsessive thoughts on the inside.

How do you help a child with anxiety? ›

These strategies can help:
  1. Breathe slowly and deeply together. ...
  2. Sit with them and offer calm physical reassurance. ...
  3. Try using all five senses together. ...
  4. Reassure them that the anxiety will pass and that they will be okay. ...
  5. Ask them to think of a safe and relaxing place or person in their mind.

What age does anxiety peak? ›

Adults ages 30 to 44 have the highest rate of anxiety of this age group, with around 23% of people this age reporting an anxiety disorder within the past year.

What helps anxiety in children naturally? ›

  1. The goal isn't to eliminate anxiety, but to help a child manage it.
  2. Don't avoid things just because they make a child anxious.
  3. Express positive — but realistic — expectations.
  4. Respect their feelings, but don't empower them.
  5. Don't ask leading questions.
  6. Don't reinforce the child's fears.
3 Aug 2022

What is the best medication for a child with anxiety? ›

Antidepressants called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are the recommended first choice of medication for treating anxiety in children. That's because they have been shown to be the most effective, and they have relatively mild side effects. They are also the most commonly prescribed.

What will happen if anxiety is not treated? ›

For the majority of people with undiagnosed or untreated anxiety disorder, there are many negative consequences, for both the individual and society. These include disability, reduced ability to work leading to loss of productivity, and a high risk of suicide.

Can parenting cause anxiety? ›

Parental anxiety can increase a child's risk of developing childhood anxiety. One 2019 review analyzed 25 studies and concluded that children were significantly more likely to have anxiety and depressive disorders if their parents had an anxiety disorder.

What is false anxiety? ›

Unwanted thoughts are one of the most common examples of false anxiety. Often time we as humans tend to be cynical, thinking about worst case scenarios, 'what if' thoughts so to speak. We tend to get so caught up in our thoughts that we end up getting trapped by them.

What are the 11 types of anxiety? ›

Types of Anxiety Disorders
  • Generalized anxiety disorder. You feel excessive, unrealistic worry and tension with little or no reason.
  • Panic disorder. ...
  • Social anxiety disorder. ...
  • Specific phobias. ...
  • Agoraphobia. ...
  • Separation anxiety. ...
  • Selective mutism. ...
  • Medication-induced anxiety disorder.
24 Apr 2022

What are the 4 levels of anxiety? ›

Anxiety levels are typically classified by the level of distress and impairment experienced into four categories: mild anxiety, moderate anxiety, severe anxiety and panic level anxiety.

Videos

1. How Parents Can Help With Child Anxiety | UCLA CARES Center
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2. 8 Signs Your Child is Depressed (For Parents)
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3. Childhood Anxiety
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4. Children's Anxiety: 3 Ways to Help Your Anxious Child
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5. Every Parent Needs To Know This | Gabor Maté, Shefali, Peterson
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6. Recognizing and Treating Problematic Fear & Anxiety in Children | John Piacentini, PhD | UCLAMDChat
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