When Should You Suspect if Your Child Has an Anxiety Disorder?

Sean Paul, MD, FABPN - 04/25/19

As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I am often asked how to tell if a child might have an anxiety disorder. Parents, caregivers, nurses, and other health care providers can use this handy list to know which child should be referred to a child psychiatrist.

Here are some warning signs of an anxiety disorder in a child:

  1. Avoidance: If the child tries to avoid social activities (birthday parties, talking to others) these can be signs of anxiety.
  2. Sleep problems: Waking up in the night, difficulty falling asleep, waking up too early can all be signs of anxiety.
  3. Worsening grades or school performance: Difficulty concentrating, difficulty finishing schoolwork, or feedback from teachers that the student seems to be struggling may be a sign of anxiety.
  4. Other symptoms: frequent complaints of headaches, stomach aches, etc. without any other cause, can be a sign of anxiety in children.
  5. Eating issues: some children with anxiety overeat to cope, while others may not eat due to anxiety.
  6. Speaking issues: some children with anxiety disorders may speak at home but then not speak in other situations such as school or in public.
  7. Panic attacks: panic attacks are a sign of anxiety in children.

If the child has any of these symptoms and it is causing them difficulty or distress, it is time to refer them to a child psychiatrist for evaluation. The psychiatrist can determine if these are signs of serious anxiety disorder and create a plan to treat them.

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