Although some parents don't understand the difference between stress and anxiety disorders in their kids, others don't realize that there's also a major distinction between how stress presents itself in kids vs. adults. In order to help your child who may be struggling with feelings of anxiety, you must first understand the signs and how they can appear differently in your little one than in a stressed-out adult.
Dr. Aarti Gupta, a psychologist and clinical director of TherapyNest: A Center for Anxiety and Family Therapy, says the main difference between anxiety in childhood vs. adulthood is the way in which it is expressed. "Children usually have not developed the tools or language to communicate feelings of stress and anxiety," Gupta explained. "Additionally, there are periods of a child's life where their response to certain stimuli could be construed as anxiety (crying at the sound of thunder, hiding from a perceived monster in the closet, being afraid of the dark, etc.). However, these can be considered normal developmental stresses."
Gupta also notes that mental health professionals are trained to decipher between normal developmental anxiety and anxiety that is pervasive and dysfunctional. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), one in eight kids suffers from an anxiety disorder. These children are more likely to "perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse."
Here are some some behaviors in younger children that Gupta recommends parents look out for as signs of anxiety:
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- High levels of irritability or short temper
- Reported stomachaches
- School refusal