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Recognizing Anxiety Disorders in Children

By Dr. Windy Mason-Leslie, Pediatric Associates

It’s normal for kids to feel anxious or nervous in certain situations, so identifying anxiety disorders in children can be difficult. Children can have various types of anxiety disorders, including: generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, separation anxiety, phobias and social anxiety disorder.

Symptoms of anxiety disorders can also be mistaken for a learning disability or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), especially in children with overanxious disorder or separation anxiety disorder. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, about twenty-five percent of children with anxiety disorders also have ADHD, so how do you know the difference?

Behaviors that may be signs of a childhood anxiety disorder include:

  • Inattention or poor focus.
  • Restlessness.
  • Trouble sleeping at night, but sleepy during the day.
  • Agitation.
  • More clingy than usual.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Moodiness or irritability.
  • Excessive worry, most days of the week, for weeks on end.
  • Frequent complaints of a headache or stomachache.
  • Refusal to go to school.
  • Meltdowns before school or during homework.
  • High expectations for schoolwork, homework, and sports performance.

It’s not uncommon for kids to hide their feelings or be reluctant to talk about things that are bothering them because they’re afraid others – especially their parents – won’t understand. They may fear being judged, or may worry that others will think they’re weak. Talk openly with your child about their feelings and symptoms in a supportive, non-judgmental way. Sometimes it’s helpful to tell your child about your own stresses and how you've been able to overcome them.

If you’re concerned that your child may have an anxiety disorder, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Start with a visit to your child’s pediatrician. Doctors and therapists today understand anxiety far more than ever before and, with treatment, can help your child feel better and get back to enjoying life without excessive fear and worry holding them back.

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About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.