Anxiety disorders affect individuals of all ages, including young children. However, anxiety disorders in childhood may present differently than in adulthood, and therefore many parents may not notice the signs and symptoms in their children. Nearly a quarter of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 experience symptoms of anxiety and many children under the age of 13 also experience anxiety symptoms that can impede with their school performance and social activities.
Anxiety of an anticipatory nature (worrying about an upcoming big speech or an assignment due in the next few days) causes some children to seek relief by pulling on and even out their hair. Sometimes there may be very visible signs, but other times, it is barely detectable since children and adolescents learn to hide this behavior. If bald spots are popping up on your child, or you are seeing him/her pulling on odd areas like eyelashes or eyebrows, this could be a sign of anxious hair pulling; formally referred to as trichotillomania
Hoarding food, restrictive eating, extreme and excessive dieting, binging, self-induced vomiting and laxative use are all common behaviors associated with disordered eating that could potentially result in an eating disorder. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and orthorexia nervosa usually co-occur with anxiety disorders and anxiety can even be an underlying trigger that can lead to an eating disorder. If your child is continuously refusing food despite being offered various options or favorites, has suddenly seemed obsessed with calories or amounts, or exercises purposefully and regularly this could be a sign of anxiousness or disordered eating.
Adults with anxiety usually have difficulty sleeping whether it is difficulty falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep; however, a child’s anxiety may often manifest in nighttime awakenings secondary to nightmares. If your child is experiencing persistent bad dreams to the point that they fear sleep or frequently wake from nightmares, this can be a sign of daytime anxiety.
Making excuses to miss school
Avoiding school can be a huge red flag that your child is struggling with anxiety/and or experiencing bullying at school. May children will fake an illness, cling to a parent and will attempt any excuse as a way to avoid school.
Chronic persistent headaches (and muscle aches) can be worrisome. It has been found that both adults and children who experience migraines before exhibiting symptoms of anxiety are at a much higher risk to develop those symptoms later. Also, headaches related to muscle contractions are considered “stress headaches,” which are often closely associated with anxiety.
Some children with anxiety feel nauseous, a “butterflies in the tummy” sensation while others are stuck with the dry heaves. More severely, some kids experience vomiting and diarrhea. Children with anxiety experience the most basic fight or flight instincts, which can cause an upset stomach. If your child has frequent stomach issues but no other signs of cold, cough, or flu, this could point toward anxiety.
Each child has his/her unique tolerance for fear. Some kids cannot stand the dark while others seem unaffected while watching scary movies. A lot of this is based on personality, but if your child appears to be spooked by the smallest thing, it should be something to keep your eye on. It can be a sign that their mind is focused on worry, that their bodies are responding to heightened levels of stress triggering their fight or flight response.