Common Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety in Children

Common Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety in Children

Can you recall what emotions bubbled up on the first day of high school? Or maybe the first day on the job or the moment you walked through the door for a major interview? For most people, those fears that trickled into their mind can’t be remembered. It was all just a fairly normal response that’s chalked up to first-time jitters.

Can you imagine what it would be like if those were a part of you all the time? If you are a parent of a child who struggles with anxiety, it can be overwhelming just trying to decipher what’s happening inside their mind and body when they think about a social setting.

It’s hard to experience life with a certain set of emotions that are often misunderstood by teachers, friends and even parents. Some teachers are unable to recognize the signs of anxiety, which is why it’s important for the parent to become involved in the school system policies and advocate for support.

There is a difference between anxiety and an anxiety disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines anxiety disorders as being different than normative fear or anxiety because they are excessive and last beyond developmentally appropriate times.

Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety in Children

Let’s cover seven different ways anxiety can affect a child’s education and, ultimately, their life.

Extreme worry about themselves, their parents, or family members

Children with anxiety disorders may overestimate the danger of a situation or avoid it completely. They may have irrational thoughts about their parents encountering danger, such as them dying in a car crash, getting lost, or a sibling being kidnaped from the home. Because of this extreme worry separation anxiety can form. If separation anxiety is present, it makes it difficult for a child to focus and participate in class.

Having nightmares and lacking sleep

Children with anxiety disorder often have active imaginations and extreme emotions. These two components combine to create vivid nightmares and lack of sleep. Without proper sleep, a child can’t perform well at school or remain clear-minded. Their concentration will deteriorate as the day progresses.

Experiencing panic attacks

For those who have an anxiety disorder, the panic attacks can be a response to the thoughts that cause extreme fear. Let’s say the child forget their homework at home.

This could cause a panic attack as they wonder if there will be consequences from the school or from home. Their thoughts could lead them down a path of receiving a bad grade on their report card.

Inability to focus and concentrate

How can a child focus or concentrate when anxiety is overstimulating them? Separation anxiety is the most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder in children. Children with separation anxiety normally have some disruption in their education by refusing to go to school. Children who do make it to school may still endure complications due to lack of focus. It’s difficult to focus on what is being taught when your mind is in a constant state of worry about someone elsewhere.

Loss of social experience

If a child is constantly worried about something unfavorable happening to her or a family member, this will spill over into their social life. A child with anxiety may be reluctant to sleep at a friend’s house or go anywhere away from the home. This behavior will negatively impact healthy social interaction.

Lack of communication in social settings

Selective mutism is fairly rare and children often outgrow it. It usually appears in children before the age of five but isn’t recognized until a child goes to school. If a child has selective mutism he might fail to speak in social settings where it’s expected. Does your child talk in the car, but once he gets to school completely stops talking?

This is one indicator a child could be struggling with selective mutism. The high level of social anxiety keeps the child silent in situations with people outside their immediate circle. A child’s isolation can cause them to have social impairment in adulthood if not treated.

Being misunderstood

It’s a scary world for a child to live in when they are constantly misunderstood. Teachers and other students may not completely understand the needs of a child with anxiety. Frustration can boil below the surface, or worse, the child can be mislabeled as being defiant.

What children with anxiety need are support, comfort, and understanding. Without fully understanding what is happening to your child in the anxious moment, you and others may struggle with how to be of constructive use.

While you can’t cater to your child’s every need, there are steps you can learn in therapy to help ease anxiety in your child and prepare them to separate from you.

All of the worry and fear that a child with anxiety experiences can be exhausting for a child who is just simply trying to manage those feelings. If you think your child could be struggling in school due to anxiety, it’s important to reach out to a Christian Counselor in San Diego you can trust.

Once anxiety is understood, it can be better managed. Scheduling an appointment with a counselor is the first step toward healing for your child and your family. Everybody can come together to learn how to navigate anxiety and attack it as a team.

“Fearful Boy”, Courtesy of Igor Ovsyannykov,, CC0 License; “Deep-thinking,” courtesy of Eneas De Troya, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC 2.0); “Crowd,” courtesy of Thomas Lefebvre,, CC0 License; “Anxious”, Courtesy of Kat J,, CC0 License


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