Skip main navigation

Introduction to anxiety disorders

An introduction to this activity on anxiety disorders.
Young schoolgirl reading a book
© University of East Anglia

Many children have fears and worries and may feel sad and hopeless from time to time. Strong fears may appear at different times during development.

For example, toddlers are often very distressed about being away from their parents, even if they are safe and cared for. Although some fears and worries are typical in children, persistent or extreme forms of fear and sadness could be due to anxiety or depression.

When children do not outgrow the fears and worries that are typical in young children, or when there are so many fears and worries that they interfere with school, home, or play activities, the child may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Unremitting anxiety lasting for weeks or months at a time can cause physical distress in the form of headaches, stomach aches, nausea, vomiting and sleeplessness, difficulty sleeping, reluctance to go to school or elsewhere outside of the child’s comfort zone, crying, tantrums and clinginess are common.

Anxiety can also interfere with a child’s concentration and decision-making. An anxious child’s thinking is typically unrealistic, catastrophic and pessimistic. They may seek excessive reassurance and yet the benefit of that reassurance is fleeting.

Irritability and anger can also be red flags for anxiety when a child becomes frustrated by the stress of worry or worn down from sleep deprivation. For some children, feeling “different” from other children can be an additional source of concern.

© University of East Anglia
This article is from the free online

Anxiety in Children and Young People during COVID-19

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education