Red Flags for Childhood Anxiety

How to identify if a child’s anxiety is a normal development fear or if it is more problematic



What is Anxiety?

  • Normal response to perceived danger
  • Experienced as a general feeling of discomfort, distress, or a sense of danger
  • Typical part of childhood development – as many as 70% of children worry about a number of things
  • Anxiety typically occurs when children confront novel experiences and situations that they have not yet mastered


Developmentally Typical Anxiety

The content of a child’s anxiety changes overtime depending on age and developmental stage; and there are specific developmental phases in which children are more likely to have certain fears:

    Developmentally Typical Fear Domains.png


    When Should You be Concerned?

    Transitory anxiety and normal developmental fears become problematic anxiety when:

    • It is excessive and out of proportion to the situation 
    • It begins to interfere in the child’s social, family, and academic functioning


    • EXCESSIVE, UNCONTROLLABLE, and UNREALISTIC worry (Lots of ‘what if’ worries; worrying hours, days, and weeks ahead)
    • Avoidance of anxiety provoking people or situations, refusal to participate in expected activities, refusal to go to school
    • Easily agitated or distressed in the presence of a stressful situation
    • Excessive reassurance seeking questions to parents, teachers, and friends
    • Somatic complaints – persistent stomachaches, headaches, difficulty sleeping, nausea, or dizziness
    • Perfectionism, self-critical, very high standards that make nothing good enough
    • Overly people pleasing and excessively concerned that others are upset or don’t like him or her

    The good news is that through CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) childhood anxiety is very treatable. To learn more about CBT and anxiety, contact the North Suburban Center for Anxiety at 224-326-0068.


    Jennifer Welbel