Anxiety and anxiety-related disorders are rising in both young children and adolescents. And although your child’s schedule can sometimes seem to rival that of the busiest CEO, is it really their environment to blame for the uptick in anxious feelings? Or is there a deeper root cause?
Kids with anxiety may not present with the same symptoms as adults, which makes genuine anxiety disorders sometimes difficult to spot in young children.
Anxiety Can Be Difficult to Identify in Young Kids
Many parents see that worry and anxiety are growing increasingly more prevalent in their kids’ lives. And for many children, this is definitely the case. Kids today learn to navigate very busy and demanding activities from a young age. This might be one contributor to the steady increase in diagnosable anxiety disorders doctors have identified in adolescents, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
It’s important to keep in mind that mild anxious feelings are a very normal part of childhood development. The trouble is when children become worried all the time, when their anxiety seems over-the-top for the situation at hand, or when it interferes with their overall wellbeing.
Symptoms of Anxiety in Children
A little more than 7% of children between the ages of 3 and 17 have a diagnosable anxiety disorder, according to the NIH (1). Most of the time, an anxiety disorder refers to generalized anxiety disorder (or GAD), though there are other types of anxiety disorders which may present differently–we’ll discuss those in a moment.
How do signs and symptoms of anxiety appear in children? Some of the symptoms are similar in adults, but several may be more difficult to identify.
At home, symptoms of anxiety disorders might look like:
- Trouble falling asleep
- Stomach aches
- Change in appetite
- Fear of being alone
- Anger or irritability
- Being very self-critical
- OCD behaviors (obsessive grooming practices, “checking” things repeatedly)
- Avoiding social contact
- Frequent urination (or bedwetting)
In school, common symptoms of anxiety disorders may include:
- Refusing to go to school or having a hard time at school drop-offs
- Difficulty participating in class
- Social withdrawal
- Trouble concentrating
- Disruptive behavior, or getting in trouble at school
- Difficulty sitting still
- Not turning in homework
How often symptoms occur and when they occur can change depending on the nature of your child’s anxiety. Some feelings may be triggered by specific events, situations, or settings. Others may come on seemingly for no reason with no discernable trigger at the time.
Different types of anxiety are triggered by different actions, and may look differently for each child.
Types of Anxiety in Children
Like adults, children can also experience a range of anxiety disorders, which include things like social anxiety, OCD behaviors, and separation anxiety. Some signs of anxiety are easier to spot, but other anxiety disorders can be a little harder to detect.
Some of the different types of childhood anxiety include:
A fear of being separated from parents or caregivers. This type of anxiety is common in young children but usually begins to subside once a child is around 3 or 4.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
A child has a disproportionate worry or fear about situations, objects, or events that lasts for six months or more (2). Children with generalized anxiety disorder may also have physical manifestation of symptoms, such as headaches or stomach aches, and muscle pains.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Children with OCD may have either intrusive thoughts (obsessions) about certain things and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These actions might include things like excessive grooming rituals, checking things over and over, or repeating words or phrases.
Panic disorder is less common in young children, but it does become more common as kids reach adolescence (3).
Of all the anxiety disorders in children, selective mutism is the least understood and often most overlooked. Children with selective mutism have difficulty speaking in social situations like at school or church, while they may be avid speakers at home or with close family (4).
Social Anxiety Disorder causes children to fear social and/or situations where they feel like they must perform. Some studies suggest social anxiety disorder may actually progress to selective mutism.
If you notice several of the above, speak with your child’s doctor about screening options for mental health and/or cognitive testing.
Many anxiety symptoms can mimic underlying conditions like thyroid problems, ADHD, or others.
Anxiety is a symptom that has a root cause
In functional medicine we seek to uncover the root cause of the symptoms at hand, while offering relief and tools to manage anxious feelings in daily life.
Because inflammation in the gut can negatively impact the brain and the production of important neurotransmitters, gut health is a primary driver for mental health. This includes complications from underlying infections like SIBO, parasites, yeast overgrowth, and H. pylori, as well as food sensitivities and leaky gut.
With any mental health concern, we also address nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, B vitamins, magnesium, and zinc which all have a direct impact on mood and are commonly missing in many modern diets (5).
Browse children’s supplements in the shop>>
Integrative Medicine Can Help Get to the Bottom of Anxiety in Your Child
Expert Advice from an Integrative Medicine Team
Your CentreSpringMD doctor gets to know your child by evaluating medical history, recommending diagnostic tools or tests, and by developing a treatment plan tailored to address both your child’s symptoms, and their holistic wellbeing as a whole.
In-Depth Testing and Diagnostics
Comprehensive lab work might include blood tests, nutrient deficiency assessment, and gut function analysis to give your integrative medicine team more insight into your child’s individual situation.
Treating Anxiety and Other Mood Disorders
Your integrative team will provide your child with a personalized plan, including recommendations for nutrition, lifestyle changes, supplements, and other therapies.
Getting started with Integrative Pediatrics is a click away. Making an appointment is quick and easy>>>
Symptoms of anxiety and other mood disorders often present differently in children than adults, and learning how to recognize signs of anxiety in your child is the first step to giving them the support they need.
Integrative medicine gives you the tools to address the root causes of anxiety symptoms, whether they stem from behavioral habits, gut dysfunction, nutrient deficiencies, or another underlying cause. Work with a qualified integrative practitioner to get to the bottom of your child’s anxious feelings so he or she can develop into a purposeful, happy adult.
Categories: Pediatric Wellness