FFFAnxiety and Children

No. 47; Updated October 2023

All children experience some fear and anxiety. Anxiety in children is expected and normal at specific times in development. For example, from approximately about age 8 months through the preschool years, healthy youngsters may show intense distress (anxiety) at times of separation from their parents or other people with whom they are close. Young children may have short-lived fears, such as fear of the dark, storms, animals, or a fear of strangers.

Anxious children are often appear to be tense.. Some may want a lot of reassurance, and their worries may interfere with activities. Parents should pay attention to their child's fears. Because anxious children may also be quiet, compliant, and eager to please, their problems with anxiety and fears may be missed. Early identification of anxiety problems in children can help them overcome the problems rather than have worsening problems as they age.

There are quite a few different types of anxiety in children.

Symptoms of separation anxiety include:

  • Constant thoughts and intense fears about the safety of parents and caretakers
  • Refusing to go to school or separate from their parents/caregivers
  • Frequent stomachaches and other physical complaints especially on Sunday nights and Monday mornings
  • Extreme worries about sleeping away from home
  • Being overly clingy
  • Panic or tantrums at times of separation from parents
  • Trouble sleeping or nightmares

Symptoms of phobia include:

  • Extreme fear about a specific thing or situation (ex. dogs, insects, or needles)
  • Fears causing significant distress and interfering with usual activities

Symptoms of selective mutism include:

  • Able to speak at home, but won’t speak at school or with friends
  • Seems excessively shy

Symptoms of social anxiety include:

  • Fears of meeting or talking to people
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Few friends outside the family

Other symptoms of anxious children include:

  • Many worries about things before they happen; “what ifs”
  • Constant worries or concerns about family, school, friends, or activities
  • Repetitive, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or actions (compulsions)
  • Fears of embarrassment or making mistakes
  • Low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence

Severe anxiety problems in children can be treated. Early treatment can prevent future difficulties, such as loss of friendships, failure to reach social and academic potential, and feelings of low self-esteem. Treatments may include a combination of the following: individual psychotherapy, family therapy, medications, behavioral treatments, and consultation to the school. For preschool and school age children, caregiver involvement in treatment is essential.

If anxieties become severe and begin to interfere with the child's usual activities (for example separating from parents, attending school, and making friends), parents should consider seeking an evaluation from a qualified mental health professional or a child and adolescent psychiatrist.

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