Recognising Anxiety in Children

Anxiety in children is more common than you think, and the best way to deal with it is through professional guidance. Sukoon is a mental health institution that can help address this health condition and more.
Dr Apala Aggarwal Tuteja Updated: 28 Dec 2023, 14:49 pm IST
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Often, children exhibit nervousness when thrust into new situations as part of their growing up. It is widely believed that, during the course of their normative development, children and adolescents behave in a manner that mimics observable anxiety.

Yet, such behaviour needs attention so that any extreme nervousness can be distinguished from what could turn out to be syndromal anxiety. This is because anxiety disorders in childhood are indicators of a wide range of psychological and emotional difficulties in adulthood.

Anxiety among children is getting severe even as a UNICEF and Gallup survey in 2021 found that 14.5% of adolescents in India were suffering from anxiety disorders. Hence, it is important to learn and recognise behavioural patterns among children and adolescents that could hint at underlying anxiety.

Identifying anxiety among children

There are umpteen ways in which parents, guardians, and concerned adults can identify anxiety among children through specific behaviour exhibited by them. Some of the early signs of anxiety can be found when young children display excessive clinginess or regress into previous milestones, such as thumb sucking and nail biting, or cry incessantly over minor triggers.

Similarly, we must watch out for outright reluctance to part from their caregivers or complaints of frequent aches and pains leading to a refusal to go to school or participate in regular daily activity. Often, anxiety also masks itself in the form of erratic oral intake, frequent fatigue, restlessness, excessive use of the toilet, and emotional outbursts disproportionate to any triggers.

The inability to concentrate due to perennial distractions and poor academic performance at school amid disturbed sleep or even insomnia can be some of the early signs of anxiety. Anxious teenagers too tend to feel more fearful than their peers and develop pessimism as an outlook, thereby affecting academic or social outcomes. Their apprehension about the quality of their performance in academics and co-curricular activities may also lead to seeking excessive reassurance from their teachers and parents.

Anxiety may also be accompanied by sudden changes in behaviour where children retract and start avoiding situations they may perceive as attracting scrutiny or confrontation, leading to isolation and poor social interactions. Selective communication with only a limited inner circle can also be a sign of anxiety among children. Such anxiety can also be triggered when facing a larger audience, talking to authorities, performing on stage, or before an examination.

Early intervention

It is essential to identify these warning signs early so that anxiety can be diagnosed and addressed promptly. Lack of early detection of anxiety disorders can lead to far-reaching implications in adulthood. It can result in lower levels of general satisfaction, increased propensity to drop out of school, decreased productivity at the workplace as adults, and increased rates of singlehood. As such, anywhere between 10% and 20% of children and adolescents face significant impairment and lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorders when they are left undetected or unaddressed.

However, the upside to identifying anxiety among children is that it can be conveniently managed with proper guidance from a psychiatrist or mental health experts such as Sukoon. However, this requires a sensitive, empathic, and non-judgmental approach when addressing anxiety among children. Lastly, anxiety in itself doesn’t make children any less than their peers. Adults must remember that it is merely an illness that can be treated effectively in children, providing them with a healthy lifestyle and better adulthood.

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About the Author

Armed with an MBBS and MD in Psychiatry from Lady Hardinge Medical College, New Delhi, Dr Apala Aggarwal Tuteja has built her expertise in mental health. Dr Tuteja founded THE PSYCH CLINIC – a boutique mental health clinic in Gurgaon that provides holistic mental health solutions. A visiting consultant at Artemis Hospital, Gurgaon. ...Read More

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