• Tashya De Silva

Understanding & Recognising Anxiety in Children

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns for children and adults, affecting upwards of 20% of children and adolescents over their lifespan. Anxiety can be defined as a feeling of worry or fear that is experienced as a combination of physical sensations, thoughts and feelings.


It is important to understand that anxiety is completely normal and in most cases, beneficial to us - triggering our 'flight or fight' response, alerting and preparing us for danger. In children, anxiety can be commonly seen in the following instances:


  • Seperation Anxiety in 6months - 3 years: Child may become clingy and cry when separated from their parents or carers. This is a normal stage in a child's development and should stop at around age 2 to 3.

  • Preschool-age children may develop specific fears or phobias. Common fears in early childhood include animals, insects, storms, heights, water, blood, and the dark. These fears usually go away gradually on their own.

  • Other instances can also include feeling shy in social situations, worries about a school test or going to a new school.

These instances are completely natural and should not cause any concern. Anxiety should only be considered a problem if it is impacting your child's quality of life and hindering participation in typical childhood activities (e.g. going to school, making friends, participating in social/fun activities, etc.)


What is Anxiety?

There are eleven different “types” of anxiety disorders. For brevity, I will list commonly occurring symptoms clustered into 4 areas; Physical Responses, Thoughts, Emotions, Behaviours.


A few examples of symptoms are listed below*


*Please note this list is for informational purposes only and should not replace diagnosis by a Medical or Mental Health Specialist.


Physical Responses

  • panic attacks, which can include having a racing heart, breathing very quickly, sweating or shaking

  • shallow or quick breathing, or feeling unable to breathe

  • feeling sick

  • dry mouth

  • sweating more than usual

  • tense muscles

  • wobbly legs

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), diarrhoea or needing to pee more than usual

  • getting very hot


Thoughts

*Note depending on the age of the child, they may not be able to understand or communicate these thoughts.

  • preoccupied by upsetting, scary or negative thoughts

  • nervous, on edge, panicky or frightened

  • overwhelmed or out of control

  • full of dread or an impending sense of doom

  • alert to noises, smells or sights

  • worrying about being unable to cope with daily things like school, friendships and being in groups or social situations

  • worrying so much that it is difficult to concentrate and/or sleep

Emotions

  • Worry

  • Fear

  • Apprehension

  • Angry or irritable

  • Sadness

  • Frequent Crying

  • Low Self-Esteem

  • Lack of Confidence

  • Shy

  • Guilt

  • Shame

  • Loneliness


Coping Behaviours

  • withdrawing or isolating themselves – including not wanting to go to school, be in social or group situations, be away from parents or try new things

  • repeating certain behaviours, actions or rituals (often called ‘obsessive compulsive behaviours’)

  • eating more or less than usual

  • self-harming


As parents, it is important to understand what anxiety is, what it looks like and when it is problem so that you can take steps to manage its impact. Sadly, untreated anxiety can lead to other issues including depression, missed opportunities in career and relationships, increased substance use, and a decreased quality of life.


Download for free Mental Health Foundation - Anxious Child Booklet for Parents & Carers for further information.

Disclaimer: The following information is not a suitable replacement for therapy or professional help. Mental health is very complex and there are various individual differences due to circumstances, genetics and life experience. All information published has been generalised and done in good faith. However, we will not be liable for any actions taken as a result of this website/post. If you are facing mental health concerns, it is important you reach out to a professional. You may also contact us at tashya1@gmail.com for further support.