What are the different types of childhood anxiety?

profile picture of Danielle Panton
Clinical Case Manager - Mental Health, Bupa
26 April 2024
Next review due April 2027

We all feel anxious at times, including children and young people. Anxiety is a normal feeling. But when anxiety goes on for a long time, this may become an anxiety disorder. Anxiety and anxiety disorders are common in children. Childhood anxiety might be a result of worries in school or at home. In this article, I discuss different childhood anxiety types, symptoms, and treatment.

kid doing homework at home

What age does childhood anxiety start?

Anxiety can affect children from when they are only a few months old. Separation anxiety is common in very young children. This is when a child feels extremely stressed when separated from a parent or caregiver.

A child with separation anxiety may be very clingy. This usually develops at age 6 to 12 months but should normally get better by the time they are 3 years old. Separation anxiety is rare in older children but may affect them in some situations.

As children grow older, they may have different worries that lead to anxiety. For example, they might get nervous about an exam. This is a normal feeling and will pass. However, if a child’s anxiety is making life difficult then this may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Types of childhood anxiety

One type of anxiety that can affect children is generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). This is when children have had worries for more than six months. The anxiety will be about many different things.

Younger children might have specific fears (phobias). They might have a fear of the dark, monsters, or animals. Teenagers might have anxiety due to worries about school and friends. Teenagers can also have phobias. One phobia that may make it hard to attend school or go to social activities is agoraphobia (fear of open or crowded spaces).

Young children and teenagers may also have panic attacks. A panic attack makes it difficult to breathe. Frequent panic attacks may be a sign of a panic disorder, which is a type of anxiety disorder.

Another type of anxiety that affects children and teenagers is social anxiety disorder. This is also called social phobia. Children may feel anxious about meeting and talking to people, especially outside of family. They may be extremely worried about what they do or say and how others think of them. Things that may be difficult for a socially anxious child are:

  • classroom activities
  • attending parties or clubs
  • school performances or presentations

What are the main causes of childhood anxiety?

There are many different reasons that might lead to anxiety in children. Causes of childhood anxiety include:

  • family history of anxiety
  • physical illness or disability
  • family problems such as divorce, arguments, or parental illness
  • school worries such as schoolwork or bullying (including cyberbullying on social media)

It’s also possible that there is no specific cause for their anxiety. But this doesn’t mean that the anxiety isn’t real.

What are the symptoms of anxiety in children?

Signs of anxiety in children can be both physical and mental. And symptoms may depend on what specific anxiety disorder a child has. Physical symptoms of anxiety include feeling tense, shaky, and restless. A young child with anxiety may have the following symptoms:

  • nightmares
  • clinginess
  • headaches or tummy aches
  • eating or sleeping problems

In teenagers, anxiety symptoms might include:

  • problems with concentration
  • eating or sleeping problems
  • negative thoughts
  • not wanting to see friends or go to school
  • concerns with appearance
  • short temper
  • feeling that something bad will happen

How is anxiety in children treated?

If you’re worried about any symptoms your child is showing, speaking to a GP can help. Your GP can also refer your child to the NHS Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). The CAMHS service helps young people who are struggling with various mental health conditions like anxiety.

Anxiety in children is diagnosed by a therapist. They will ask your child questions about what is causing them to feel anxious.

Treatments for anxiety disorders include talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on how our thoughts can impact our feelings and behaviour and works to try and change these patterns of thinking.

Medications may be prescribed depending on the severity of symptoms. Drug treatment is mainly for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)  or panic attacks.

How do you calm a child’s anxiety?

Ways to help a child with anxiety include letting them know you’re there for them. You could also try activities together such as yoga, deep breathing, and mindfulness. Try to find some grounding techniques as these help to distract your child from what’s making them anxious. For example, if your child is anxious about school, you could play ‘I Spy’ on the way to take their mind off it.

If your child finds it hard to talk about anxiety at home, you could encourage them to talk to a GP, Childline or someone at school. Charities like Young Minds, stem4 and Mind also offer mental health support and services for children and young people.

Looking for more support? Our Family Mental HealthLine connects you with mental health nurses for advice and guidance about your child's mental wellbeing.

profile picture of Danielle Panton
Danielle Panton
Clinical Case Manager - Mental Health, Bupa



Rasheda Begum, Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

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