Identifying the Anxious Child

By, Erin LoPresti, M.S., NCC, LCPC, CADC

I once sat in a school IEP meeting for a young child who desperately needed accommodations. I was in utter shock when I heard an educator say, that everyone knows that anxiety does not affect 5 year olds. Anxiety can be sneaky and is not always obvious to educators, parents or even the child. According to News and Science, anxiety can indeed occur as young as preschool. In fact, most studies indicate that 10-20 percent of preschoolers in the U.S., suffer from one of several anxiety disorders. According to retired Harvard University psychologist, Jerome Kegan, there are four common anxiety disorders in preschool children (Gupta, 2019). These include separation anxiety, social anxiety, generalized anxiety and specific phobia. All in which have different symptoms. About half of the people diagnosed with anxiety disorders are also diagnosed with depression. There is a strong link between untreated anxiety and depression as an adolescent. Providing the child with support and treatment at a young age could be life changing. Anxiety could be holding your child back.

Anxiety becomes a problem when it interferes with daily functioning. This could include raising their hand in class, participating in social events at school or sports and even making friends. Children with anxiety can feel alone, feel different, and lack confidence, which can influence their decision making. As the anxious child continues to grow, other unhealthy patterns could continue to develop. Self medicating, drug abuse, missed school, isolation, even suicide are just a few common behaviors. News and Science report that untreated anxiety has been linked to depression as an adolescent and even an adult. A child with an anxiety disorder who is not treated, are more vulnerable to risk taking behaviors as an adolescent. Research has shown that anxiety doubles the risk of substance abuse in their teen years.

Anxiety is a medical condition that can be treated. The Anxiety Disorders Association of America, suggests that like other medical conditions, anxiety disorders tend to be chronic unless properly treated. You do not need to be an expert in anxiety to identify red flags. It may be challenging for a child to connect and process their behaviors to thoughts. That is to be expected! Most often, it will be observed through interactions, behaviors and their choices. It is evident that when anxiety shows up in a child, it could easily be masked by behaviors. A child asking to use the restroom over six times a school day, or a frequent flyer to the nurse, or complaints of stomach aches at nighttime, late to school or missing several days of school are common red flags. A child’s anxiety can manifest, and not be obvious, that it’s being caused by the actual anxiety itself. If needed, seek accommodations for the child to help them succeed in school. Open up lines of communication with the teacher. Talk to your predication for referrals. Non- enabling interventions and accommodations at a young age are crucial in the development of the child. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) you have the right to request appropriate accommodations to your child’s diagnosis. Stay knowledgeable about your child’s diagnosis. Students, parents, and administrators can all request brochures and other resources at or by calling 240-485-1001.

Always educate and advocate for the child.



Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), Anxiety Disorders in Children.     

Gupta, Sujata. Why it’s key to identify preschoolers with anxiety and depression, February 3, 2019.

Gupta, Sajata. When anxiety happens as early as preschool, treatments can help. April 21, 2019.  

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)