Anxiety in Kids: Know the Signs - Nemours Blog

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Anxiety in Kids: Know the Signs

Anxiety in Kids: Know the Signs

While back to school season is usually an exciting time for most students, many kids and teens may also be feeling anxious or worried about what this school year might have in store.

For many students, this is the first time they will return to in person learning since the COVID-19 pandemic began. While some may be looking forward to getting back to their normal schedules, there are those who are struggling with returning to school under new conditions. 

A lot of kids and teens have struggled with stress and uncertainty over the last year because of the disruptions to “normal” life caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While returning to in person learning has many benefits for mental health and well-being, especially increased socializing that is crucial for kids and teens, your child may also have some concerns about heading back to school this year, including:

  • Being behind other classmates academically
  • Re-adjusting to socializing and being around others all day
  • Not being prepared for potential changes or not knowing what to expect related to the changes in pandemic guidelines and mandates
  • Fear over contracting COVID-19
  • Not knowing the vaccination status of classmates

It is common for kids and teens who are experiencing anxiety to not speak up about what they are feeling. Anxiety can manifest physically, emotionally, and behaviorally. It’s important to recognize the symptoms of anxiety, and if there are any sudden changes to your child’s behavior. Here are the most common symptoms of anxiety in kids and teens.

Physical Symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Restlessness

Emotional Symptoms

  • Cries often
  • Anger
  • Sensitivity
  • Self-doubt
  • Has pressing fears or phobias
  • Worries about things way off in the future
  • Obsessive thoughts

Behavioral Signs

  • Avoids social situations
  • Refusing to go to school or do schoolwork
  • Withdrawing from social situations
  • Angry outbursts
  • Overly emotional when separated from family
  • Constantly seeking approval from parents, teachers, and friends

It is normal to experience feelings of anxiety and stress from time to time, but occasionally anxiety that’s too strong can interfere with doing our best. Some kids and teens develop anxiety disorders that can present in different ways than normal anxiety.

Typical Anxiety vs Anxiety Disorder

Typical anxiety or stress occurs once in a while,  usually resolves fairly quickly with support and/or distractions or when the challenging situation is over, and can help us to be alert and focused, and even perform at our best. An anxiety disorder is categorized as a mental health condition that involves excessive amounts of anxiety, fear, nervousness, worry, or dread. Anxiety that is too constant or too intense can cause a person to feel preoccupied, distracted, tense, and always on alert.

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions. They affect people of all ages — adults, children, and teens. There are many different types of anxiety disorders, with different symptoms. They all have one thing in common, though: Anxiety occurs too often, is too strong, is out of proportion to the present situation, and affects a person’s daily life and happiness.

Talk to your doctor if you think your child has developed an anxiety disorder so that you can get the support and services your child may need to have them feeling like themselves again.

How to Help your Child Cope with Anxiety

It can be easy to blow off some of these warnings as “signs of growing up” or “teen angst.” While that is a possibility, it’s important to understand that if teens feel ignored when they are seeking attention, it could make matters worse. Always keep the lines of communication open and express your concern, support and love. If your teen does confide in you, show that you take those concerns seriously and that you appreciate their openness. If you suspect your child isn’t comfortable talking to you, suggest another family member, a clergy member, your school’s guidance counselor or your family doctor. You can also ask your family doctor for a referral for a mental health specialist.

Leah Orchinik, PhD

Leah Orchinik, PhD, is a pediatric psychologist at Nemours Children's Hospital in Wilmington, Del.