Childhood Anxiety Disorders

Does my child have an anxiety disorder?



Anxiety is a normal part of living. It’s a biological reaction—the body’s way of telling us something isn’t right. It keeps us from harm’s way and prepares us to act quickly in the face of danger. But if your child's anxiety becomes overwhelming and persistent, or if it interferes with their regular daily activities, or even makes them impossible, they may have an anxiety disorder. Children with an anxiety disorder tend to be very hard on themselves and strive for perfection. They may also seek constant approval or reassurance from others. Read on for a list of information on the different types of anxiety and the red flags to observe that your child may be experiencing anxiety:

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is diagnosed if your child suffers at least two unexpected panic or anxiety attacks—which means they come on suddenly and for no reason—followed by at least one month of concern over having another attack, losing control, or "going crazy."

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Many children experience separation anxiety between 18 months and three years old, when it is normal to feel some anxiety when a parent leaves the room or goes out of sight. Usually children can be distracted from these feelings.


If your child is slightly older and unable to leave you or another family member, or takes longer to calm down after you leave than other children, then the problem could be separation anxiety disorder, which affects 4 percent of children. This disorder is most common in kids ages seven to nine.


Other symptoms include refusing to go to school, camp, or a sleepover, and demanding that someone stay with them at bedtime. Children with separation anxiety commonly worry about bad things happening to their parents or caregivers or may have a vague sense of something terrible occurring while they are apart.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is characterized by an intense fear of social and performance situations and activities such as being called on in class or starting a conversation with a peer. This can significantly impair your child’s school performance and attendance, as well as his or her ability to socialize with peers and develop and maintain relationships.

Selective Mutism

Children who refuse to speak in situations where talking is expected or necessary, to the extent that their refusal interferes with school and making friends, may suffer from selective mutism.


Children suffering from selective mutism may stand motionless and expressionless, turn their heads, chew or twirl hair, avoid eye contact, or withdraw into a corner to avoid talking.


These children can be very talkative and display normal behaviors at home or in another place where they feel comfortable. Parents are sometimes surprised to learn from a teacher that their child refuses to speak at school.

Specific Phobias

A specific phobia is the intense, irrational fear of a specific object, such as a dog, or a situation, such as flying. Common childhood phobias include animals, storms, heights, water, blood, the dark, and medical procedures.


Children will avoid situations or things that they fear, or endure them with anxious feelings, which can manifest as crying, tantrums, clinging, avoidance, headaches, and stomachaches. Unlike adults, they do not usually recognize that their fear is irrational.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

GAD is characterized by excessive anxiety and worry, occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities. Children with GAD often find it difficult to control the worry despite their best efforts. This can also present in physical symptoms: feeling keyed up, muscle tension, relentlessness, sleep disturbance, to name a few.


The anxiety, worry and physical symptoms can cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.


*taken from DSM-5, American Psychiatric Association

Red Flags for Anxiety

These are behaviors to observe of what is normal and not normal anxiety in children

Steps to take if your child needs help

This is a helpful guide when thinking about the next step to getting your child help if needed.

Additional Resources

National Institute of Mental Health - www.nimh.nih.gov


Anxiety and Depression Association of America - www.adaa.org


Website about Anxiety in Kids - www.worrywisekids.org


National Association of School Psychologists - www.nasponline.org

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