• Wing Yee Choo

How to recognise anxiety in children?

Here are some of the best tips from child psychologists and early childhood experts around the world:


“You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think” – Christopher Robin

It is not just adults who get scared or worried occasionally. Kids can feel insecure and anxious too, especially when they are still feeling their way around in the world. We tend to associate anxiety with adulthood, children are just as affected.


According to the 2018 Children’s Mental Health Report by Child Mind Institute, around 30% of children suffer from anxiety at one point and this thought can be harrowing for any parent. Childhood is supposed to be the most beautiful period of someone’s life and experiencing the symptoms of anxiety at such an early age can feel unfair.


There are several causes behind anxiety in children, from genetic factors to traumatic life

events, big life changes, problems at school, abuse, or negative examples from other family

members. The good news is that with guidance and compassion, children can overcome anxiety before it leads to depression and other serious mental health conditions. But to do that, you have to familiarise yourself with this checklist and learn how to recognise anxiety in children.


The signs of anxiety can manifest differently from child to child. Here are some things you

shouldn’t ignore:


Anxiety in children symptoms checklist:


#1 - Physical symptoms


  1. Restlessness and hyperactivity in the absence of an ADHD diagnosis

  2. Shakiness and sweating in uncomfortable situations

  3. Shortness of breath

  4. Clammy hands, dry mouth, redness – these are typical “fight or flight” responses

  5. Insomnia

  6. Refusing to use the bathroom at school

  7. Lack of appetite at kindergarten or childcare center

  8. Headaches and stomach aches that can not be explained by any other health issue


While physical symptoms can be very important, most of the time the symptoms of anxiety are more obvious in children’s emotional responses and behaviour.


#2 - Emotional and behavioral signs


Children who experience anxiety:

  1. Cry a lot and are very sensitive

  2. Become angry and irritable for no apparent reason

  3. Go through panic attacks

  4. Have many nightmares and are afraid to sleep alone

  5. Worry about distant things or abstract notions

  6. Avoid taking part in social activities at school and generally have trouble socializing.

  7. Anxious children often sit alone during recess and can even refuse to go to school altogether because they don’t want to interact with anyone. Sometimes, this behaviour also occurs after school: children can refuse to go to birthday parties, or making new friends at the playground.

  8. Are afraid of going to school or kindergarten without their parents and cry when they’re being dropped off (this is in fact the main symptom of separation anxiety)

  9. Are often silent and are afraid to speak in class – this can go all the way to selective mutism, a form of anxiety disorder where children can’t speak in specific social settings, such as in school, or around people they’ve just met.

  10. Show a lack of self-confidence and need constant reassurance from parents and teachers.

  11. Have regular outbursts and even sensory meltdowns. Although they may look the same as tantrums, sensory meltdowns are more intense and occur when your child is overstimulated and overwhelmed. They can occur when your child is in a busy place, with too many loud noises and other stimuli that draw their attention. The main difference between tantrums and meltdowns is that tantrums are usually attention-seeking behaviours and stop once they receive what they want. Meltdowns are uncontrollable and stop only after you take your child to a safe, reassuring space.


Important things to consider:


80% of children with anxiety never get help and part of this is because their symptoms were not taken seriously. Sometimes it’s easy to discard children’s worries as unfounded, but what may seem minor to an adult can be traumatic for a child. This is why you should not neglect the signs of anxiety in children and, when your child opens up to you about their fears, you should take them seriously, be supportive, and ask a specialist for help.


Tip #1 - Talk to your child’s teacher regularly.

Sometimes, anxiety symptoms are more pronounced in preschool or kindergarten, where they are out of their comfort zone. Well-trained teachers often know how to recognise the signs of anxiety in children before the parent and can also notice other problems, such as trouble concentrating or difficulty socialising with other kids.


Tip #2 - Encourage your child to open up and talk about their feelings.

Unlike adults, children do not understand mental health concepts very well and they may not be able to understand and cope with their feelings. If it occurs when children haven’t yet fully developed their language skills, they can have trouble explaining what scares them, so help them talk about their feelings. In turn, you should learn how to listen and be a reassuring presence when they show you this kind of trust.


Tip #3 - Don’t be afraid to seek professional help.

Helping your child cope with anxiety starts by recognising the symptoms. While it’s normal to feel that it is your responsibility as a parent to do all this alone, understand that you may not be the best qualified to do so. No stress, okay?


Talking to a professional therapist can be much more effective because experts can differentiate between the various types of anxiety, assess their severity, and offer a personalized treatment plan. They can give you exercises you can practice at home to boost your child’s confidence and help them face their fears, and guide you through this challenging time. Seeing your child experience anxiety symptoms can be very overwhelming for you too, and an expert’s help can make you feel less powerless.


Tip #4 - Keep a log with anxiety symptoms.

The signs of anxiety aren’t always severe and they may not occur every day. They can slip under the radar for a long time, especially if both parents lead busy lives and only get to spend a few hours with the child every day. Writing the date and intensity of the symptoms in a journal can help you keep better track of them and seek help before they become too intense. If you don’t have time to monitor your child’s behavior every day, ask the nanny, teacher, or another carer to pay close attention to what triggered the symptoms and write them down.


Always look out for your kids!


You are the best person to notice something is not right in your child's behaviour. Look our for them and take some time to address them. They will love you even more for listening to them!


What anxiety episodes have you experienced with your child? Leave a comment below this post.

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