Sometimes anxiety is easy to identify, like when a child is feeling nervous before a test at school. Other times anxiety in the classroom can look like something else entirely such as an upset stomach, disruptive or angry behavior, attention deficit hyperactive, or even a learning disorder. Anxiety tends to lock up the brain, making school hard for kids and potentially resulting in kids not wanting to participate or even attend school. Teachers may be the first adults to notice that there is something different about your child. Your child may not want to engage in classroom activities, ask to go to the bathroom multiple times in a short period, refuse to answer questions or not engage in social activities with other children during recess or during playtime. At home, you child may seem to act like his or her normal self and engage with the family and but when asked about school they may shy away from the topic or become emotional. It is also common for children to have headaches, body aches and stomach pains during school that are relieved upon coming home and as a result, they may try to avoid going to school altogether.

Signs and symptoms associated with anxiety in school-aged children

  • Inattention and restlessness
  • Avoiding school altogether
  • Begging their parents to stay home
  • Disruptive behavior in the classroom
  • Asking repetitive questions (for reassurance purposes)
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Refusing to ask question in class
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Stomach pains, headaches, body aches and other physical complaints
  • Not turning in homework
  • Avoiding playtime or group activities

Types of anxiety disorders in children

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: When children worry about a wide variety of everyday things. Children with generalized anxiety often worry particularly about school performance and can struggle with perfectionism.
  • Social anxiety disorder: When children are excessively self-conscious, making it difficult for them to participate in class and socialize with peers.
  • Specific phobia: When children have an excessive and irrational fear of particular things, like being afraid of animals or storms
  • Separation anxiety disorder: When children are worried about being separated from caregivers. These children can have a hard time at school drop-offs and throughout the day.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: When children’s minds are filled with unwanted and stressful thoughts. Children with OCD try to alleviate their anxiety by performing compulsive rituals like counting or washing their hands.

Anxiety disorder versus ADHD

Anxiety is often mistaken for ADHD and vice versa. Although theses disorders may be similar in presentation, the management and treatment are vastly different and therefore understanding how these differ is important when determining if your child may have an anxiety disorder. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a developmental condition of inattention and distractibility, with or without accompanying hyperactivity. Children with ADHD usually struggle with completing tasks and paying attention however they are very social and enjoy interacting and talking with others, to the point that is can become disruptive in class. Children with ADHD will usually fail to pay close attention to detail, have difficulty listening, does not follow through with instructions, has difficulty with organization, is easily distracted, has a hard time staying still, difficulty waiting in lines or waiting for their turn, and often interrupts or intrudes on others. Children with anxiety are more likely to avoid social situations and avoid speaking rather than speaking out of turn and being the center of attention. Many assume just because a child is acting out in the classroom, they must have ADHD when in reality they can be exhibiting signs and symptoms associated with an anxiety disorder.