How To Tell If A Child Is Battling Anxiety

By Beth Leipholtz 10/11/18

Though children's anxiety can sometimes take longer to identify, it is very treatable once diagnosed.

nervous boy biting his fingernails

What initially appears as bad behavior in children can actually be signs of an underlying issue—anxiety disorders. 

According to the Washington Post, anxiety disorders are increasing in youth, especially during the school year.

A study recently published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics makes the estimate that about 2 million children and adolescents in the U.S. have a diagnosable anxiety disorder. 

When it comes to anxiety in children, it can be difficult to diagnose since it can present as negative behaviors. 

“We tend to think of anxious children as these delicate little butterflies, but when kids are scared, they can be ferocious about trying to escape or avoid anxiety-provoking situations,” Eileen Kennedy-Moore, child psychologist and author of Kid Confidence, told the Post

Susan Newman, psychologist and author of The Book of No, explains that sometimes children can have feelings of anxiety for the first time and don’t always know how to react.  

“Children today are stressed on so many fronts: challenged socially, academically, having to cope with physical changes and development, the demands and influence of social media, trying to fit in and be accepted. It’s no wonder they show evidence of anxiety,” Newman told the Post. “Parents should ask questions about anything they notice or want to understand to show their interest and love for their child. Children want to be heard and listened to, even if they tell you to stop being nosy.”

When it comes to anxiety in children, there are some warning signs, though all children differ. One, according to the Post, is psychosomatic complaints. 

“Kids don’t usually come home from school saying, ‘I felt really anxious at school today,’ but they do say things like, ‘I have a terrible stomachache; I can’t go back to school tomorrow,’” the Post notes. “Frequent stomachaches, headaches and unexplained muscle aches and pains can all be symptoms of anxiety.”

Other signs include anger and irritability, sadness, isolation and avoidance, fatigue, poor concentration, school refusal and frequent questions.

Just like signs of anxiety can differ from child to child, so can triggers. Triggers can include genetics, academic pressure, bullying, big transitions, loss and violence or abuse. 

Though children's anxiety can sometimes take longer to identify, it is very treatable when that diagnosis is made, according to the Post. Through identifying triggers and learning coping skills, children and parents can learn to take control of anxiety. 

“A pediatrician is a good first stop to rule out or diagnose possible medical issues and to refer a licensed mental health practitioner who specializes in working with children,” the Post reads. “Cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy can be very effective treatment options for children with anxiety.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.