The earlier these red flags are caught, the earlier a child can start treatment. Watch out for these signs of anxiety in toddlers and teens.
RELATED: Is Anxiety Hereditary? | Anxiety Causes, Studies, And Treatments
In this article:
- What Are Anxiety Disorders?
- What Are the Common Signs of Anxiety in Toddlers?
- What Are the Common Signs of Teen Anxiety?
- What Are the Types of Social Anxiety Disorders?
- What Causes Anxiety Disorders?
- How Are Anxiety Disorders Diagnosed and Treated?
Everything You Need to Know About Anxiety Disorders in Toddlers and Teens
What Are Anxiety Disorders?
The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as an emotion marked with feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physiological changes, like a spike in blood pressure. Working similarly to fear, anxiety is a normal response to perceived threats.
Everybody can become anxious from time to time—whether due to an exam, a coming interview, or a fight with a friend—but this feeling is fleeting. In children with anxiety disorders, however, the negative feeling becomes debilitating, prolonged, and sometimes even unexplained.
What Are the Common Signs of Anxiety in Toddlers?
In children, anxiety commonly manifests as negative behaviors observed briefly in the past that are turning more noticeable, intense, and consistent. Professionals find dealing with children’s anxiety disorder trickier than usual because it can often overlap with symptoms of other conditions like attention deficit disorder (ADD) or learning disabilities.
Attention Deficit Disorder Definition: This is a mental health disorder often characterized by high activity levels, difficulty remaining still for long periods of time, and limited attention spans.
Nonetheless, anxiety in toddlers can have physiological and behavioral symptoms. Here are some signs to watch out for:
- Not wanting to go to school
- Poor focus
- Meltdown before school (clothing, shoes, socks, hair)
- Post-school meltdown about homework
- Transition difficulties within school and activities
- Difficulty settling down at bedtime
- Somatic symptoms like headaches or stomachaches
- High expectations (schoolwork, homework, and sports)
What Are the Common Signs of Teen Anxiety?
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America approximates that around 25% of 13- to 18-year-olds suffer from an anxiety disorder, with 6% having a severe anxiety disorder. Checking for signs of teen anxiety can also be tricky as they are often mistaken as hormonal changes.
If you notice the following symptoms, it may be best to visit a specialist to help your child.
Emotional Red Flags
Some may express pervasive feelings of worry, while others may experience more subtle emotional disturbances like:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling keyed up or on edge
- Unexplained outbursts
Social Red Flags
Anxiety disorders can disrupt a teen’s social life. They may suddenly avoid their favorite activities or stop hanging out with their friends.
Other signs include:
- Often spending time alone
- Avoiding social interactions with usual friends
- Avoiding extracurricular activities
- Isolating from peer group
Physical Red Flags
Teens with anxiety may also experience psychosomatic symptoms like the following:
- Frequent headaches, including migraines
- Excessive fatigue
- Abdominal pain
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Changes in eating habits
- Complaints of not feeling well with no obvious medical cause
Changes in sleep habits can be a sign of anxiety. Watch out for the following:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Not feeling refreshed after sleep
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Frequent nightmares
Underperformance in School
Anxiety disorders can affect many aspects of a teen’s life including school performance. Symptoms of undiagnosed anxiety disorders can result in:
- School avoidance
- Missing school days due to anxiety-related illness
- A significant dip in grades
- Missing assignments frequently
- Expression of feeling overwhelmed over workload
- Procrastination or difficulty concentrating on homework
What Are the Types of Social Anxiety Disorders?
As previously mentioned, there are different types of anxiety disorders. We’ll talk about how these types usually manifest in toddlers and teens below.
1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Children with GAD excessively and uncontrollably worry about a variety of activities and events. They become anxious in many situations and cannot simply put their worries aside.
These worries may include:
- Future events – What will happen to me if mom and dad die?
- Social acceptance – What if my friends are just pretending to like me?
- Past behaviors – What if they still make fun of me because of my tripping accident last week?
- Family matters – Will my parents get a divorce?
- Academic performance – What if I fail my math class?
- Perceived shortcomings – I’m dumb.
These are things children with no GAD may worry about, but with GAD patients, these are extreme and ever-present. They may interfere with the child’s ability to concentrate, relax, and enjoy activities.
2. Separation Anxiety
Infants and toddlers tend to feel anxious when being apart from their parents for the first few times (stranger anxiety). When children do not outgrow this fear, they develop separation anxiety.
Young children with separation anxiety, even as they age, may become very anxious about being away or even just the thought of being away from their parents or home. They tend to miss school days due to being too sick or upset to go.
Kids with this type of anxiety may also cling to a parent, cry, or refuse to go to school and do other activities without their mom or dad. During bedtime, they may also have difficulties sleeping alone.
3. Social Anxiety Disorder or Social Phobia
Children with social anxiety are extremely worried about what other people think or say. They have this lingering fear of doing or saying something embarrassing, and they worry about looking and sounding weird.
Kids with social phobia are not comfortable being the center of attention and might prefer to stay unnoticed. They might fear to raise their hand in class or panic or freeze if called.
This form of anxiety can cause kids and teens to avoid school and social interactions. It may also cause physical symptoms like:
- Racing heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling jumpy
- Inability to sit still
A very extreme form of social anxiety disorder is selective mutism. Kids and teens with this condition have a heightened fear of specific social situations so they choose not to talk at all.
It may be when they’re at school, around strangers, or in strange places. Note that they can talk, but they choose not to because of their anxiety.
4. Specific Phobias
It’s normal for kids to be afraid of monsters, the dark, loud noises, or big animals. When kids get upset because of these, adults can always soothe and calm them down.
However, if it’s a legitimate phobia over a specific thing or situation, a child’s anxiety can be more extreme, more intense, and longer-lasting.
With a phobia, a kid may dread the trigger and avoid it at all costs. If they are anywhere near the trigger, they are extremely terrified and hard to calm.
These phobias can span from being afraid of needles or shots, blood, spiders, dogs, clowns, thunderstorms, and the likes.
What Causes Anxiety Disorders?
Several factors can lead to a child having anxiety disorders. These may include:
- Genetics – These disorders are hereditary.
- Brain Chemistry – Chemical imbalance in the brain can lead to anxiety disorders.
- Traumatic Events – Experiences that a child may find difficult to cope with such as loss, illness, grief, abuse, and violence.
- Learned Behaviors – A child raised in a fearful or anxious family can adopt such behaviors.
How Are Anxiety Disorders Diagnosed and Treated?
Child psychiatrists or psychologists can diagnose anxiety disorders by talking to the parent or guardian and the child, asking questions, listening carefully, and analyzing the answers. They may also use psychological questionnaires.
Their diagnosis is based on the criteria written on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Definition: Published by the American Psychiatric Association, this is the official taxonomic and diagnostic tool used by mental health experts.
Anxiety disorders are often treated with cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. Your child’s specialist will use talk therapy to try to reduce anxiety symptoms.
CBT focuses on teaching patients skills on managing their worries and helps them gradually go back to doing the activities they have avoided because of their condition.
Mental health professionals also prescribe medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and serotonin, norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI), and supplements to help with the symptoms.
Anxiety disorders, if left untreated, can severely affect a child’s life. Knowing the signs of these conditions will help you decide if its time to seek professional help and get to the root of the problem.
Do you have any questions about the symptoms of anxiety in kids? Let us know in the comments section below!