Although many of us don’t get much of an education on mental health in the United States, a lot of folks understand that mental health issues are part of adult life for many people. One thing many people don’t know, though, is that mental health conditions don’t necessarily discriminate by age. Though many folks believe that children can’t be diagnosed with a mental health condition, that’s actually just a myth. It’s entirely possible for children to struggle with mental health issues, including things like depression, stress, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, OCD, and more. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 7.1 percent of children between the ages of 3 and 17 have diagnosed anxiety, and this number is probably higher because many cases go unreported. Parents don’t always see the signs that their child is experiencing anxiety, and children can sometimes hide their symptoms and feelings from their caregivers, leaving them in the dark. 

Children tend to be busy, moody little things sometimes, so it might be hard for you to spot the difference between an age-appropriate outburst and a warning sign of anxiety. The important thing to remember is to talk openly about mental health with your child, so they know from an early age that they can talk to you about their mental state. In addition, children don’t always have the vocabulary to tell you what’s going on in their inner worlds, so talking about your own mental health can be a helpful way to help your child learn and find new words for things they’re experiencing. 

When is child anxiety an issue?

When it comes to anxiety, the general rule of thumb is that it’s considered an issue when it interferes with everyday functioning. The same is true for child anxiety. It may be easy to miss because anxiety doesn’t necessarily prevent a child from functioning, but anxiety might make it harder to function in certain situations. There are plenty of kids out there who are naturally timid and worry a lot. That doesn’t always mean that they meet the criteria for an anxiety diagnosis, though. If your child’s worries start to interfere with their school performance, social activities, playtime, or home life, then there might be more than just regular worrying going on. 

Since children don’t always know how to talk about what they’re feeling, they might seem angry, frustrated, or irritable, which is another sign you can watch out for. Here are a few more common symptoms of children with anxiety: 

Physical Signs of Child Anxiety

  • Panic attacks
  • Trouble breathing 
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Stomachaches
  • Headaches
  • Exhaustion
  • A lower appetite than normal
  • Wetting the bed
  • Fidgeting or moving around a lot

Emotional Signs of Anxiety in Children

  • Separation anxiety when away from caregivers
  • Specific phobias or fears (of strangers, of dogs, of the dark, etc.)
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Crying

Behavioral Signs of Anxiety in Children

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Refusal to go to school or social events
  • Getting into trouble at school or daycare
  • Changes in school performance
  • Becoming avoidant toward caregivers
  • Becoming clingy toward caregivers
  • Frequent outbursts or temper tantrums
  • Trouble focusing 
  • Difficulty with transitions throughout the day

As stated above, it can be really tricky to spot child anxiety. There’s a lot of overlap with anxiety and other disorders, like ADHD, so it might be worthwhile to seek out the services of a professional to get your child the support they need. In addition, it can be exhausting and upsetting to try to adapt your parenting style to what your child is going through. It might be valuable to seek out support for yourself during this time as well.