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Signs and symptoms of anxiety in children

Parents often ask us how they can tell if their child has anxiety.  The first thing we tell parents is that anxiety is a normal reaction to stressful times/stressful situations – and we are certainly living in a stressful time. The other things we tell parents are that anxiety doesn’t always follow a set pattern of signs and symptoms – anxiety is different for each child; and, if they are concerned they should become a detective and notice how regular certain signs and symptoms are, when they occur and how intense the symptoms are.  We encourage parents to discuss their observations with their spouse / partner and other significant adults in their child’s life and agree on what proactive changes can be made – see examples further on in this article.


An anxiety disorder is considered present when the anxiety starts to interfere with a child’s day to day functioning and quality of life as well as family functioning. If you are concerned that your child has an anxiety disorder please discuss this with your GP.   

Here are some of the common signs and symptoms of anxiety. 

Having these symptoms doesn’t mean that your child has an anxiety disorder  – however, they are things to watch out for and take proactive action on.

Behavioural clues:
Signs can often be found in children’s actions and sometimes these behavioural clues are early signs of anxiety.
Behavioural clues include:

  • acting out and being aggressive

  • not following rules

  • changes in levels of concentration

  • perfectionism (fear of making mistakes)

  • sleep issues

  • extreme shyness

  • avoidance of things

  • dislike of trying anything new

  • asking for help with a task they can do for themselves

  • seeks constant reassurance about a worry

  • clinginess and wanting to be with you 24 hours a day

  • very emotional or bursting into tears

  • unable to sit still

Physical clues:

  • chest pain discomfort

  • stomach ache

  • other bodily aches and  pains

  • nausea

  • butterflies in their tummy

  • rosy cheeks

  • tense muscles

Thinking style clues:

  • ‘but what if …. What if … What if”. The what-ifs are an attempt by an anxious brain to stay safe by turning as many unknowns into knowns as they can

  • always on the lookout for danger and threats

  • always worrying

  • always arrives at extreme conclusions from vague information

  • imagines worst case scenarios

Examples of what you & your child can do.

Consistent and frequent parental support and encouragement is vital when it comes to helping children struggling with anxiety.

  • both you & your child can practice mindfulness – it trains the brain to stay in the present.

  • practice taking deep breaths when calm.

  • lots of physical activity indoors and outdoors.

  • art & craft activities.

  • have a discussion about the importance of self-talk and how this influences our behaviour without us being aware of this happening.

  • be a role model for your children regarding coping with stressful situations and take care of your own levels of anxiety.

  • label what is happening e.g. have an age appropriate talk about covid-19 and provide opportunities to answer their questions in an honest and age-appropriate way. Let them know that feeling scared and anxious is very normal and it can make them feel sad, and even angry.

  • routines and predictability make children feel safe.

  • limit their exposure to the media and social media.

  • teach them how to take care of themselves. Anxiety is often the result of feelings about lack of control. Giving children control over their immediate environment is helpful  e.g. making sure they learn how to wash their hands properly, keeping them and their family safe; plant a veggie garden together. 

  • point out the numbers that have recovered from the virus far exceeds the numbers that have died.

  • help them keep in touch with family and friends e.g. by making cards, skype or face time.


Additional resources

Beyond Blue website

Raising Children Network website

Headspace (12 – 25 year olds) 1800 650 890

Kids Helpline (5 – 25 year olds) 1800 55 1800


Take care. Next week’s post will be on the grief process.

Other articles that may interest you:

Dealing with the Coronavirus.

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