Symptoms of Anxiety in Children


If you've come to this page, you are probably looking for help with symptoms of anxiety in children. Don't be alarmed; it isn't uncommon, and you aren't alone in feeling overwhelmed.  Parents will frequently bring their children into therapy 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. 

It's time to get help with your child's anxiety when if he or she is having trouble at home, with friends, or school. You may be able to learn enough from getting educated about anxiety, or you might need a therapist. 

Anxiety disorders in children can be treated successfully in a variety of different ways. 

Where do symptoms of anxiety come from?

Is your child having trouble with anger and frustration, along with their anxiety? Check out this page on emotional regulation.

Children who have anxiety may have a genetic predisposition and may have some stress in their lives that are challenging for them. As a parent, it's essential to realize that getting help early is a good thing!  

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 understand more about helping your child. 

Also, you may find yourself in a position where you wonder about medication as an option for your child

Have teens? Learn about them here.

Symptoms of Anxiety in Children: Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is excessive or unrealistic anxiety or worries 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 occur 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 a perfectionist.
  • They may tantrum or become angry about something with little provocation because they try 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

Symptoms of 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 home or other comfort zones' safety. Children or adolescents who are having an 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.

The physical symptoms are what distinguish panic attacks

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

Then a child needs 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 to a child's anxiety attack. CBT presupposes that the child's thoughts cause feelings and behaviors, leading to a child's anxiety attack. Some of the critical components of this approach are discussed below. 

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


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 an anxiety attack in a child's physiology.

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 though 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 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! Some adults 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 the panic disorder may also consist of bibliotherapy (reading stories) or art therapy to illustrate some of the above points. 

It is essential to examine each child's anxiety attack and help a child or adolescent figure out what thoughts accompany the feelings and physical symptoms.

Young children's thoughts can often be uncovered through artwork, while adolescents may prefer to identify them verbally. 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 other kids' symptoms. Talking about other kids who have a child panic attack helps kids feel like they are not alone in this struggle.

Challenge the Thoughts 

Those thoughts must be challenged after uncovering the child's thoughts before and during a child's panic attack. 

Is it 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 the child can work through this and do it on their own. Children have a fantastic sense of resiliency and often respond quickly 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. Therefore, it is essential to teach children and adolescents how to relax their bodies. A CBT approach to panic disorder will require the therapist to reproduce the physical symptoms a child has during a child's anxiety attack while in the therapy session. This is called exposure therapy. Kids 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. 

Symptoms of Anxiety in Children: Childhood Separation Anxiety Disorder

Anxiousness is a normal part of growing up, but this should lessen 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 separation anxiety symptoms 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

Symptoms of Anxiety in Children: 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 schools will promote children. 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  test anxiety tips and also information about school refusal. and school stress

Symptoms of Anxiety in Children: 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 with average social relatedness, development may require treatment. 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. In reality, this is a manifestation of anxiety. This disorder 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. 

Click here for information on social anxiety in teenage

Symptoms of Anxiety in Children: 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 regular daily routine or success at school and with peers, it may require treatment.

Symptoms of Anxiety in Children: OCD in Children

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one of the most debilitating forms of anxiety disorder 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 trauma. Symptoms include: 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 extreme stress or abuse.

Sleep is often disrupted in all anxiety disorders. 

Learn about sleep in children with anxiety disorder here. 

Leave symptoms of anxiety in children to check out the  online facebook support community for parents of kids with mood disorders 

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Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.