Feeling anxious is one of the body’s alarm systems – it alerts us to danger. For some people, their alarm system is more sensitive, and goes off even when there is little to no danger.
In many cases, anxiety is healthy and keeps us safe and motivated:
- The anxiety I feel about passing a test at school motivates me to study.
- The anxiety I experience when someone asks me to do something dangerous prevents me from going through with it.
Feelings of Anxiety to Expect During Development
Feeling anxious, nervous or afraid is common throughout child development and tends to occur in stages or phases.
- During infancy, “stranger danger” is common among infants as they can differentiate faces of familiar and unfamiliar people.
- As toddlers, close bonds with caregivers intensify and separating from them becomes difficult. This usually lasts from about ages 1 to 4 but can last longer for some children.
- For school-aged children, they become more aware of real dangers in the world. Those include:
- Illnesses, etc.
They focus on these dangers without understanding how often these issues actually occur.
- Adolescents become increasingly focused on social acceptance, personal success and issues in society, and may experience anxiety about changes in these areas. Anxiety around experiences at school, such as grades, peers, and dating are common concerns for adolescents.
How Do We Know When Kids Are Feeling Anxious?
There are both mental and physical signs of anxiety, nerves, or fear. Some common signs in children include:
- Expressing worry in the days, weeks or months ahead of a planned event.
- Wish to avoid an activity.
- Frequent "what if" questions about potential danger.
- Need for constant reassurance from parent.
- Physical symptoms (for example: tummy aches, headache, or nausea)
- Difficulty sleeping.
Many times, anxiety is a temporary feeling that passes once a situation changes. Children can also learn ways to manage daily anxiety effectively over time.
Anxiety Disorder Warning Signs
Feelings of anxiety, fear and even short-lived panic are all normal emotions for children to go through, and usually don't influence their daily functioning. Anxiety as a feeling can become an anxiety disorder when it stops a person from doing things they want and need to do. Signs include:
- Distress and constant worry that is out of proportion with the situation (such as crying, anger, hopelessness or sadness).
- Consistent avoidance of typical activities or refusing to participate in social activities.
- Physical symptoms (such as headaches, stomach pain or shaking/trembling), which interfere with normal activity.
- Persistent sleep problems, nightmares or refusal to sleep alone.
- Consoling or reasoning with a child is repeatedly needed for ordinary situations.
If you are noticing these patterns, it might signal the need to seek guidance from their pediatrician, school staff or a mental health professional. Learn more about common anxiety disorders in children.