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Anxiety in children

Just like adults, children and young people feel worried and anxious at times.

But if your child's anxiety is starting to affect their wellbeing, they may need some help to overcome it.

What makes children anxious?

When is anxiety a problem for children?

What are the signs of anxiety in children?

Why is my child anxious?

How to help your anxious child

Other ways to ease anxiety in children

When should we get help?

What makes children anxious?

Children tend to feel anxious about different things at different ages. Many of these worries are a normal part of growing up.

From about eight months to three years, for example, it's very common for young children to have something called separation anxiety. They may become clingy and cry when separated from their parents or carers. This is a normal stage in children's development and tends to ease off at around age two to three.

It's also common for pre-school children to develop specific fears or phobias. Common fears in early childhood include animals, insects, storms, heights, water, blood, and the dark. These fears usually go away gradually on their own.

Throughout a child's life there will be other times when they feel anxiety. Lots of children feel anxious when going to a new school, for example, or before tests and exams. Some children feel shy in social situations and may need support with this.

When is anxiety a problem for children?

Anxiety becomes a problem for children when it starts to get in the way of their day-to-day life.

"We all get anxious at times, but some children seem to live a life of anxiety, where it's not short-term and it's not just an occasional thing," says Paul Stallard, Professor of Child and Family Mental Health at the University of Bath.

"For example, if you go into any school at exam time all the kids will be anxious but some may be so anxious that they don't get into school that morning," says Professor Stallard.

Severe anxiety like this can harm children's mental and emotional wellbeing, affecting their self-esteem and confidence. They may become withdrawn and go to great lengths to avoid things or situations that make them feel anxious.

What are the signs of anxiety in children?

When young children feel anxious, they cannot always understand or express what they are feeling. You may notice that they:

  • become irritable, tearful or clingy
  • have difficulty sleeping
  • wake in the night
  • start wetting the bed
  • have bad dreams

In older children you may notice that they:

  • lack the confidence to try new things or seem unable to face simple, everyday challenges
  • find it hard to concentrate
  • have problems with sleeping or eating
  • are prone to angry outbursts
  • have negative thoughts going round and round their head, or keep thinking that bad things are going to happen
  • start avoiding everyday activities, such as seeing friends, going out in public or attending school

See more about the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Why is my child anxious?

Some children are more prone to worries and anxiety than others.

Children often find change difficult and may become anxious following a house move or when starting a new school.

Children who have had a distressing or traumatic experience, such as a car accident or house fire, may suffer with anxiety afterwards.

Family arguments and conflict can also leave children feeling insecure and anxious.

Teenagers are more likely to suffer with social anxiety than other age groups, avoiding social gatherings or making excuses to get out of them.

Read more about social anxiety.

Article provided by NHS Choices

See original on NHS Choices

Last Updated: 08/05/2017
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