Signs Your Young Child Might Be Struggling With Anxiety

By Lexi Walters Wright



Childhood is full of new experiences that can feel scary to young kids. Think about learning to ride a bike or starting at a new school, for example. Kids with learning and attention issues may be even more likely than their peers to worry about school, social activities and change. And they may be more likely to develop anxiety.

Do you think your preschooler or grade-schooler may be struggling with anxiety? Here are some signs you might see, according to John Piacentini, Ph.D., and Lindsey Bergman, Ph.D., experts from the UCLA Child Anxiety Resilience Education and Supports (CARES) Center.

You can print this checklist by clicking the view or download link below. Once you know what anxiety might look like, consider sharing signs you see with your child’s teacher or doctor. Then you can discuss next steps.


Physical Signs of Anxiety

  • Frequently complains of headaches or stomachaches, even though there’s no medical reason for them.
  • Refuses to eat snacks or lunch at daycare or school.
  • Won’t use restrooms except at home.
  • Can become restless, fidgety, hyperactive or distracted (even though he doesn’t necessarily have ).
  • Starts to shake or sweat in intimidating situations.
  • Constantly tenses his muscles.
  • Has trouble falling or staying asleep.

Emotional Signs of Anxiety

  • Cries often.
  • Acts extremely sensitive.
  • Becomes grouchy or angry without any clear reason.
  • Is afraid of making even minor mistakes.
  • Has extreme test anxiety.
  • Has panic attacks (or is afraid of having panic attacks).
  • Has phobias (about bees, dogs, etc.) and exaggerated fears (about things like natural disasters, etc.).
  • Is afraid people will find out about his learning and attention issues (more so than other kids with the same issues).
  • Worries about things that are far in the future (for example, a third grader might worry about starting middle school).
  • Is worried or afraid during drop-offs (at daycare, school, relatives’ homes, etc.).
  • Has frequent nightmares about losing a parent or loved one.
  • Gets distracted from playing by his worries and fears.
  • Has obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors (finger tapping, hand washing, etc.).
  • Is starting to have meltdowns or tantrums.

Behavioral Signs of Anxiety

  • Asks “what if?” constantly. (“What if an earthquake happened?”)
  • Avoids participating during circle time or other class activities.
  • Remains silent or preoccupied when he’s expected to work with others.
  • Refuses to go to school.
  • Stays inside, alone, at lunch or recess.
  • Avoids social situations with peers after school or on weekends (extracurricular activities, birthday parties, etc.).
  • Refuses to speak to peers or strangers in stores, restaurants, etc.
  • Becomes emotional or angry when separating from parents or loved ones.
  • Constantly seeks approval from parents, teachers and friends.
  • Says “I can’t do it!” without a real reason.


About the Author

Lexi Walters Wright is the Community Manager at Understood ( As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.

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Reviewed by

John Piacentini, Ph.D., is a professor of psychiatry and director of the UCLA Child Anxiety Resilience Education and Support (CARES) Center.