Anxiety checklist: How do I know if my child has an anxiety problem?

Anxiety in adults vs anxiety in children

Anxiety seems to be an adult problem. People understand all the causes for anxiety in an adult: money, work conditions, relationships with family members, an increasingly uncertain future, etc. Even if each person deals those issues differently, most adults can empathize with an adult friend who talks about his or her anxiety.

From the outside observer’s point of view, anxiety in adults may not differ from sadness, pessimism or depression.

Anxiety in children is quite different in one major aspect: children do not talk about their anxiety. This is not a word that belongs to their world and they generally do not know that they suffer from anxiety.

Normal anxiety in children vs clinical anxiety

Children experience various states of anxiety from the moment they are born, due to lack of experience and lack of communication. Sometimes it is easy to tell if a child is anxious by their crying and clingy behaviors but, generally, a child’s anxiety is hard to recognize and differentiate from a temporary bad mood, pain, personality development or confrontation.

To make things more complicated, a child’s anxiety can be a response to an environmental situation where one, or both, of the parents are anxious themselves and therefore less able to acknowledge their child’s emotional state.

Some children hide their anxiety because it is too difficult for them to express it to others.

The feeling of anxiety is overbearing and frightening, particularly if your parents do not acknowledge it or talk about it. The same major feelings defining anxiety are identical in children and adults:

  • constant and unreasoned fear,
  • feeling of loneliness,
  • sadness,
  • feeling of lack of power, and
  • associated psychosomatic pains, such as: headache, digestive problems.

Tantrums and Defiant Behavior

Some, if not most, children turn their anxiety into angry tantrums or defiant behaviors. Parents often respond with disapproval and discipline the child, thus entering into a vicious cycle which makes everyone more and more miserable and adds to the child’s anxiety.

Anxiety is a severe threat for health and research has demonstrated that it worsens with time, if the person is not helped. It is important to look for signs of anxiety in order to be able to help.

The Checklist

The following checklist can help you observe your child and recognize anxiety. If you recognize with certainty at least five of these traits, you need to help your child :

  • Pessimism and negative thinking patterns, such as imagining the worst
    (E.g. Dad is going to have a car accident; my school peers are going to hurt me)
  • Constant worry about things that might happen or have happened
  • Over-exaggerating the negatives
    (E.g. This bad thing ALWAYS happens to me)
  • Rigidity and inflexibility, self-criticism, guilty thoughts, etc.
    (E.g. I will never be able to do that, I will never know how to…)
  • Anger
  • Aggression
    (This is sometimes discreet, like quietly pushing a younger sibling or breaking someone’s property on purpose.)
  • Restlessness, irritability, tantrums
  • Opposition and defiance
  • Crying
  • Physical complaints such as stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, etc.
  • Avoidance behaviors, such as avoiding things or places or refusing to do things or go places
  • Sleeping difficulties, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, nightmares, or night terror
  • Perfectionism
    (E.g. tearing off a drawing to redo it, or scratching out a line or a word till it can’t be seen before rewriting it)
  • Excessive clinginess and separation anxiety (can look like acting out to force the parent to cancel an appointment to stay home)
  • Procrastination
    (E.g. will start later, will finish in a moment…)
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • Withdrawal from activities and family interactions
  • Eating disturbances
    (E.g. hides to eat snacks, shows sudden aversions to some foods…)

Next step?

  1. If this checklist raised some questions, we recommend you speak with a physician about the issue.
  2. Consider Sensory Enrichment Therapy, clinically proven to reduce anxiety symptoms. Have a look at our FREE training course for parents about Sensory Enrichment Therapy.

 

27 replies
  1. Mary
    Mary says:

    My son is 3 years old and I think he has anxiety and ocd. He doesnt like change at all one time i rearrange my bedroom and he cried almost all day for me to put it back the way it was. I bought a new recliner for my husband and he will not let him sit there i guess thats not where hes use to his dad sitting there. He doesnt have a very big variety of things he likes to eat just certain thing about a hand full of thing. He cries alot when thing dont go his way. People say im over reacting that hes just being a kid and needs disapline but as his mother i think otherwise. Hes really clean and thing have to be a certain way or he will cry. He loves to vacuum the floor every since he was able to walk when most kids are scared of vacuum cleaners. He will take about 10 bqths a day if i would let him. Well i could go on and on about stuff he does but ill end here. Do yall think im over reacting give me your thought thanks for taking the time and reading my story

    Reply
  2. Lauris
    Lauris says:

    I am so sad that I am finding myself on this sight. I am worried about my daughter. She just turned 15 and have been noticing changes in her personality for about 1 1/2 years. I first thought it was a puberty stage, but now I know different. Increasingly we are always arguing, she is always upset. Two nights ago she confessed to me that she has a hard time talking to people. She says that she is so busy at school pretending not to look self conscious that she doesn’t even listen to her lectures in class. She says she does not know how to talk to people or how to react in social situations. I am so worried that this has come to this. How can I help??? Is she destined to take medications or there alternative options? Please help!!!

    Reply
  3. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    I have a 5 yr old son who just finished pre school.
    They had a graduation for them and when they were
    On stage singing he started to cry and was ready
    To throw up. I think he had an anxiety attack. His
    Teacher noticed right away and took him off and brought
    Him right to me. But I’ve also noticed before this
    Everytime there’s a holiday coming really close
    Like Christmas he gets so excited that he gets a fever.
    Now it’s to the point I can’t tell him that he has a field trip until
    That day. I don’t know if he has anxiety or stage freight , but after what happened at
    The graduation I’m a worried about it and what can I do to help him
    With this.

    Reply
  4. Lauree
    Lauree says:

    My daughter just turned 6 in March and since then she has completely changed. She has been crying everyday when I drop her off at school and saying she does not want to go to school. I have been working with the teacher and we can not pin point just one thing. They have been talking a lot in Kindergarten about 1st grade and the expectations and I have also been talking about going back to work. A new kid as also come into the class that made her a little nervous because he was loud and it scared her. She has always been shy and reserved but never cried to go to school. She has always had a hard time meeting new people by herself. If her sister is with her, it is much easier. It seems that she has social anxiety and also emotional detach anxiety, but today at the grocery a lady came up to me needing help with food to I offered to buy her food and my daughter just froze. She started crying and started saying that she just wanted to go home and she wanted to go hide behind the meat counter. I started hugging her and told her that everything was okay. I never saw her act like this and I do not know what to do and how to help her.

    Reply
  5. Saba Taj
    Saba Taj says:

    My six year old son is experiencing maths anxiety, he’s having trouble with his multiplications and every morning before school he cries and frets about maths and how he doesn’t understand time tables. After having chatted to his teacher she assured me that he was doing fine but my son claims he doesn’t understand her method of teaching maths. This is a new teacher his previous teacher whom taught him from reception onwards has recently left and he cries and says he could understand the old teachers teaching method.

    Reply
    • Kim
      Kim says:

      It seems that your son is disheartened by the departure of his teacher and may confuse the emotions to redirect them towards maths, which is a temporary problem.

      His attachment to his previous teacher is both wonderful and painful. Sometimes, as adults, we tend to tell children that all is fine, but all is not always fine.

      It may help for you to sit with him and talk about the previous teacher, where she moved, looked at images of the city, draw a logic to the situation and allow your son to be sad about it.

      Change is not systematically fun or easy for everyone and you are the right person to help him through the transition, you are the mom, you love him and always will. It this is appropriate, you could invite the new teacher for tea and have him learn to appreciate her in a different context that the classroom where she may seem as having taken the spot of someone he wanted there.

      From a Sensory Enrichment Therapy perspective, a suggestion we would make is to involve the senses of smell and of touch as you talk to your son about his old teacher and about his new teacher.

      Combining the sense of touch with the sense of smell was shown in animal studies to enhance learning. The clinical study done on children with autism, who display a lot of anxiety, confirmed that it helps children too.

      Reply
  6. Tina
    Tina says:

    I remember feeling like I couldn’t control my emotions as a child. I cried very easily and would fake sickness to avoid going to school starting in 2nd grade. Even at the age of 15, I remember crying, screaming, kicking myself into the floor like a child. I think the tantrum behavior continued for so long because my mom was very distant and emotionally cold. She would hit me when I cried (to try to condition me to equate her “unwanted” behaviors with pain). I think many experiences had really negative effects on me; I remember at the age of 3 pulling my drunk dad off my mom and thinking we were playing, moving around, being bullied at school because I was too skinny, etc.) There were a lot of environmental factors that fueled my anxiety; it also made me develop a weird relationship with food. I can’t eat in front of people. It’s gotten so bad that I can’t even drink in front of people unless it’s specifically out of a straw. I’m 19 now and most people don’t even know I have this past or that I have these problems. The only thing I’ve been able to improve is concealing my problems better. So parents, please be more unconditionally loving to your child and tackle the problem of anxiety early on. Thank you for reading.

    Reply
    • Columba Smith
      Columba Smith says:

      So sorry to read this, Tina. Never forget, you are a priceless individual with much to offer. I hope you are finding resolution to your anxiety. You sound like you are very wise for your years, and will do fine because you learn and grow. Hugs!

      Reply
  7. jessica caylor
    jessica caylor says:

    My daughter is 9 yrs old. Until the last two months or so she has loved school, stayed with friends and has been a normal functioning preteen. About two months ago for a wk or 2 she wold come to me in tears, it was because even though she goes to church she was worried she’d just be nothing when she died. I didnt think about it then bt she had also stopped asking to be dropped off with any family or friends and once flat out refusing to stay for the 50th time with her best friend after begging to do so. She has now begun crying every night, does NOT want to go to school and calls me crying from school begging to be picked up. She says nothing has changed and im gonna set up a meeting with the school. She constantly complains of the above mentioned ailments as well, regardless of if shes having a hard time or not. I dont know what to do. She is breaking my heart everyday as well as frusterating me to no end, I just try to stay firm, but understanding, praying this is early puberty and will pass

    Reply
    • Kim
      Kim says:

      Anxiety is definitely an area where parents are reporting a lot of progress when they do Sensory Enrichment Therapy. The best advice I can give you is to see if it would help her feel more serene, more comfortable and more confident.

      Reply
    • Sugar
      Sugar says:

      I know this is late, but for anyone reading this comment from Jessica…Jessica, your daughter sounds very much like me at that age. I would beg to spend the night with a friend, only to have her parents call mine to come get me after I had quiet time with my thoughts. I cried a lot. I would feign illness (even force myself to vomit) in order to get sent home to my mom. What my parents didn’t know is that I was thinking about killing myself daily – I didn’t see any value in myself or reason to be alive and be a burden to everyone around me. I don’t mean to tell you she feels this way, but it’s a possibility. I urge you to get her some help from a psychotherapist. I also appreciate your acknowledging that things aren’t right. They aren’t. My parents never saw me as anything but a pain when it came to my anxiety. I love my parents and they care, but I can tell you that they missed a lot of signs from me and they regret it now. They just saw me as dramatic and they do still tend to tease me about having been a “drama queen”. In reality I was suffering a lot internally. I barely made it to where I am now, which is mostly healthy and mostly happy with a wonderful family and great career.

      Whatever you do, do not make your daughter feel as though she is dramatic or acting irrationally. It’s frustrating even at 34 years old to hear my parents refer to me as having been dramatic and an overreactor when they now know that I suffered/suffer from depression and OCD. The fears and anxieties are real, whether they seem rational to anyone else. You sound like a wonderful mother who truly cares, or else you wouldn’t be here commenting.

      Reply
  8. Abagail
    Abagail says:

    My little sister has suffered from this since she was about 2 or 3 and at first we thought it was normal because she was young but it only got worse in the next year or two. She has been first diagnosed with ADHD but that just made it worse then it was Autism and finally disruptive mood dysregulation disorder but that didn’t go to far either.
    Now that I have read this I think it is anxiety but could someone help me figure out if it is? At least 10 of those symptoms are true in her. Really I just want to help so yea…

    Reply
  9. Daisy
    Daisy says:

    My son is 10 years old … Reading the check list I recognize about 7 of those traits. His been this way all his life, It’s a constant struggle to get him to feel confident or comfortable about anything his always thinking about all the bad things that can happen with whatever he does. His struggles a bit in school… There is mental illness on his Dad side of the family (Bipolar Depression) and I am terrified that he might have the same … But after reading your check list it just about everything sound just like him… I don’t know how to help him. Where do I start. PLEASE HELP

    Reply
    • Kim
      Kim says:

      Hello Daisy,

      Have you spoken to a medical professional about your observations?

      What you could do is take that checklist and compile two weeks worth of notes on your son and present the report to the doctor. They will appreciate the objective nature of the report. You may want to include in your notes: dates, times, durations, intensity of the episode and what happened beforehand during the day that may have caused or exacerbated the incident.

      We wrote an article that you may find useful:

      http://www.mendability.com/articles/stay-objective-hone-your-observation-skills/

      We do offer a therapy program that helps children with anxiety. Sensory Enrichment Therapy strengthens and develops the parts of their brain involved with processing change and coping with stress. You end up with a kid that is visibly more relaxed, comfortable in his own skin and also more confident. It’s two sessions per day of customized sensory-based exercises that you do with your son. Each session takes about 10 minutes, typically. When you sign up you will be assigned to a therapist on our staff that will coach you through the program.

      Let me know you if you would be interested in talking more about Sensory Enrichment Therapy.

      Reply
  10. joyce
    joyce says:

    My son who is 18 and autistic. He has for the last 2 weeks has gotten sick everyday at school, but he is perfectly fine when he gets home. I am working closely with his teacher. Any ideas. Could hormones be part of it?

    Reply
    • Kim
      Kim says:

      Hormones could play a role, since hormones they play a role in the quality of the immune system. Stress does wear down on the ability of the brain to regulate Serotonin, in particular, so you could draw a link between stress at school and a compromised immune system. He could be so nervous and anxious that he gets physiologically ill. This is not an uncommon phenomenon. Of course, it’s impossible to draw a practical conclusion without more detailed information but, it would not hurt to help him boost his ability to regulate Serotonin with a generic technique that we use with most of the people who do Sensory Enrichment Therapy. We call it the “Gentle Claw.”

      You do this protocol by giving a nice back rub using finger tips rather than the whole hand. You’ll end up with your hand in a “claw” shape. Run your fingertips on his back in a way that he likes. It can be slow or fast, random shapes or up and down, higher up his back or lower down his spine, whatever he will enjoy most. When you do it just right, you will see him relax. He may even sigh. That’s a sign that the effect worked. That will help him “refill” on his ability to feel serene, which will help relieve him from stress.

      Reply
  11. Jackie
    Jackie says:

    my child, almost 15, has suffered from anxiety since birth but is currently doing better. I’m worried she may have another downward spiral and I want to prevent this. What can I do?

    Reply
    • Kim
      Kim says:

      Sounds like you are doing the right things already if she is doing better. Don’t take that for granted.

      One thing that you could do to help is by doing the kind of sensory exercises that promote relaxation. In animals they have shown that gentle touch promotes the regulation of Serotonin. There is a growing body of human research looking at things like massage. With your daughter look for opportunities for her to have short, pleasant tactile experiences a couple of times a day.

      With Mendability, we try to also pair sensory stimuli. In animals they see a spike of Norepinephrine in the brain for about an hour when they combine smell and touch in particular. Norepinephrine is connected to brain plasticity.

      Have a look at the webinar we have been broadcasting lately. It covers some of this stuff:

      http://www.mendability.com/how-it-works/new-cost-effective-clinically-proven-autism-therapy/

      — Kim

      Reply
  12. Amy
    Amy says:

    My daughter is 10 and has been showing signs of anxiety off and on since she was 4 or 5. It seemed to get a little better but in the last year and a half it has been worsened. We tried med for ADD because she is struggling in school but it almost seemed to worsen the systems so we decided to stop the meds. She will not sleep in her room at night and has been living on our couch for a while. She must be asleep before I go to bed or she will not go to sleep. I have tried laying down and letting her cry it out but it is beyond crying. She worries about the doors being locked or noises she is hearing. We have been to our family doctor who told us to try ac councelor. The counselor made me feel like we didnt need counseling. Any suggestions on where to go from here. This is exausting!

    Reply
    • Kim
      Kim says:

      Hi Amy!

      My heart goes out to you and your daughter.

      I am pretty sure MendAbility® can help her rest her anxieties and fall asleep peacefully.

      Right now, what you could try with her is our generic bedtime routine, which we use as a complement to the therapy: Have her listen to relaxing orchestral music for a few minutes after a warm bath and a foot and hand massage. Apply a fragrance to her pillow or pajamas.

      If it works, it should work right away.

      Reply
  13. Angela
    Angela says:

    I read the check list to recognize anxiety in my son. People have been telling me that my son has ADHD. Reading up on anxiety, it seems to fit better. Can someone help me see the differences between the two? ADHD and Anxiety?

    Reply
    • Kim
      Kim says:

      ADHD can cause anxiety and anxiety can exacerbate ADHD. We have seen many kids who come to the program wanting to have both go away.

      With Mendability® it’s OK if you have one, the other or both. When you come to Mendability® we assume that some aspect of your kid’s brain function is not ideal and we move on with figuring out the best course of action based on your child’s own capacities and pre-dispositions. Sensory Enrichment therapy will help your child’s brain compensate, consolidate or re-build. As your child’s brain gets stronger, anxiety will decrease and so will inattentiveness, hyperactivity, etc.

      With Mendability®’s expert system, we find out where your child is ready to improve and we give you the best exercises we know for where he is ready to go. Every two weeks you fill out a progress report that helps us determine the next course of action.

      Reply
  14. Samantha Donovan
    Samantha Donovan says:

    Hi my daughter is 12 years old and I feel she has anxiety problems as she is getting older its getting worse, she has learing problems at school /home. She has been seen by Ed syc, specialist teacher from essex county council. We are waiting for a appointment for her to see someone from mental health team. Myself as her mum ,her anxiety is putting pressure on family life and im trying the best I can to help her cope but its not easy. She is worried if I go out of the door and nor come back. She crying, in the car I can’t leave her if I just go to get car park ticket the list goes on.

    Reply
    • Kim
      Kim says:

      You should watch the webinar on how to stop episodes of anxiety that we have been broadcasting. We teach a simple technique you can use to give short term relief to your daughter during an episode. You should be able to use it preventatively as well. When you know you are about to leave her, boost her ability to cope with this technique. Watch the webinar! :-)

      You can find it at the bottom of this page: (Scroll down until you see the webinar mentioned)

      http://www.mendability.com/how-it-works/new-cost-effective-clinically-proven-autism-therapy/

      Reply
  15. marilyn mallender
    marilyn mallender says:

    My 5 year old bites her nails a lot, has stomach aches everyday and before school she says she wants to throw up. Sometimes tantrums getting in car. Goes to bed some nights saying everybody hates me. She has just started Kindergarten and I don’t know how to get her tested properly. Her brother has a form of Autism and needs an aide to focus but his disability was more obvious to others. my daughters preschool teacher felt that she needed counseling but I want answers to help her more than her talking to someone and have her tell them anything. She is very smart.

    Reply
    • Kim
      Kim says:

      It looks like your daughter has anxiety issues. Mendability does not require a formal diagnosis. All we need is to know where your daughter needs help and then we work on helping the brain to overcome these issues.

      Reply
  16. stop panic attacks
    stop panic attacks says:

    Anxiety in children is often overlooked because most parents can easily remember phases of their own childhood that were filled with uncomfortable feelings and general awkwardness. Transferring to a new school, going on a first date or falling down in gym class caused butterflies in the stomach and maybe even a few tears.

    Reply

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