Anxiety in Children: Identifying Symptoms & Providing Support

Mental Health
February 17, 2021
4 min read

We all experience moments of fear and stress, maybe even daily. However, when this uneasy feeling becomes a constant in your life, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is the most common mental illness, affecting over 18% of the U.S. population. Unfortunately, children are no exception, and 7.1% of kids ages 3-17 are diagnosed with anxiety. If you believe your child is experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder, we encourage you to read on so that you can begin to take impactful steps in addressing their mental health.

Common Anxiety Disorders and Warning Signs in Children

Living with anxiety can drastically affect one’s ability to complete daily tasks. If your child is experiencing these anxious feelings, they will need guidance on how to manage their symptoms. As a parent, you can educate yourself on the signs and treatment options for different types of anxiety disorders. Some of the most common types of anxiety in children include separation anxiety, phobias, social anxiety, general anxiety and panic disorder.

  • Separation Anxiety: They feel extremely upset and stressed when separated from parents/guardians. They have a fear that something bad will happen to either them or their parents/guardians when they are not together. Children tend to feel this way when they are young, but if this is something they do not outgrow, they may be diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder.
  • Phobia: They have an irrational fear of a situation or thing. Women are twice as likely to have phobias and symptoms begin at the average age of seven.
  • Social Anxiety: They have a strong fear and feel stressed in social situations. They are self-conscious and constantly feel judged when surrounded by others. Social anxiety typically starts at the age of thirteen and many live with symptoms for over ten years before seeking treatment.
  • General Anxiety: They have a constant feeling of worry and restlessness. They overthink situations and assume that everything will result in the worst-case scenario. It is often hard to perform daily tasks and they have trouble concentrating. Physical symptoms include but are not limited to fatigue, sleeping problems, muscle tension and sweating.
  • Panic Disorder: They experience panic attacks caused by sudden feelings of terror without the presence of danger. This can cause them to develop general anxiety, living in constant fear, not knowing when the next panic attack will happen. Symptoms include but are not limited to heart palpitations, chest/stomach pain, lightheadedness, sweating, tingling and body weakness.

If your child is dealing with an anxiety disorder, they will likely appear noticeably stressed about their academic performance, the safety of themselves and their family, getting places on time or events that are out of their control like earthquakes, war, etc. Anxiety can affect your child’s self-esteem, their need for validation, whether or not they feel as if they fit in and how comfortable they feel in social situations. These types of anxiety disorders can be exhausting, frustrating and an overall burden on your child’s mental health.

I think my child has anxiety, how can I help them?

Managing anxiety looks different for everyone. Start by taking your child to a doctor for a professional diagnosis in order to rule out anything else that could be causing them similar symptoms. Outside of treatment prescribed by their doctor, there are things you can do consistently to help your child.

Support them by...

  • Prioritizing a balanced diet
  • Encouraging them to do some type of physical activity every day
  • Ensuring that they are getting a sufficient amount of sleep each night
  • Personalizing their anxiety by giving it a name. This can help your child feel empowered and in control of their anxious feelings.
  • Previewing/Practicing anxiety provoking situations with them. This can include going to new places ahead of time or doing things that would usually give them anxiety to show them they can survive these anxious moments. Do not intentionally avoid situations that give them anxiety.
  • Being a role model. Embody self-confidence and avoid having anxious actions and reactions around them.

Signs of Anxiety on Social Media

Living with anxiety will be a daily struggle for your child. If they are using social media, it is likely you will find no warning signs in the content they post, captions they make or comments they leave. Social media has become a place where people strive to present themselves in the most picture-perfect, positive light.

People with anxiety tend to deal with their struggles internally and avoid posting about it to their online community. However, it may become evident in their private messages, the videos they watch or the website searches that they make. Our dashboard analyzes and presents this information to parents so that you can easily spot these warning signs. Cyber Dive can serve as an additional resource for checking in on them and their mental health during these developmental years.

Identifying that they have an anxiety disorder and learning how to get their symptoms under control will drastically improve their self-esteem and quality of life. Take it day by day, do your research and be a strong support system for them as they learn to navigate and manage their anxious energy.

For additional support and practical next steps, you can call the National Alliance on Mental Illness hotline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). If you are ready to schedule your child to talk with a mental health professional, visit Talkspace, an online platform that connects patients with licensed therapists.

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