5 ways to spot signs of anxiety in children

Signs of anxiety in children- anxious boy in class

5 ways to spot signs of anxiety in children

With Children’s Mental Health Week occurring on the 6th-13th of February, we have decided to explore the signs of anxiety in children, and how you can help.

Anxiety comes in many different forms for children and can affect their lives inside and outside of the classroom. It can be quite difficult for teachers to spot signs of anxiety as they can be discreet and unnoticeable. Helping children with anxiety can also be difficult as they struggle to talk about their issues and aren’t as confident with opening up.

To help your pupils that may be struggling with an anxiety disorder, we have sourced 5 ways to spot signs of anxiety in children. Use these as a guide so that you can identify when a child is battling with their mental health, and you can offer solutions to assist them.


Struggling to concentrate

One of the most common signs of anxiety in children is concentration levels dropping as they struggle to focus. Anxiety can take over children’s minds and actions without them fully knowing. When in the classroom, they can find it hard to do their work. It may look like a pupil is acting up or misbehaving when not doing their work properly, but it could be an indication of them struggling with anxiety.

If a pupil seems distracted and can’t concentrate during lessons more frequently, it is important not to get angry at them. Sure, it can be frustrating when it feels like a child isn’t listening or doing work correctly, but there could be a few reasons why. They could be facing troubles at home that they are worrying about, or it could even be the school environment. Try approaching the pupil and find out what is troubling them. You could find that you can ease their anxiety with small changes such as offering a change of scenery in the classroom or moving them to a comfy seating area to relax.


Constantly worrying

Another key indication of potential anxiety within a child is constantly worrying. If a pupil in your class seems to be worried more than usual and is overthinking the smallest things, they could be struggling. Signs of worrying more can vary for children as they cope with worrying in multiple ways. It may not be noticeable so it’s important to look for the small signs too. Some of these signs can be being nervous, breathing fast, sweating, trembling and being tired.

If you notice these signs of worrying in a child, it is best to think of solutions after trying to pinpoint the issue. You can offer solutions if the worrying is happening over a pupil’s workload. These can be small fixes such as helping them with their work one to one or giving a smaller goal to reach that they can achieve.

If you see a pupil breathing quicker than usual or struggling to breathe, then immediately allow them to take some time out. Whether this is to go to a comfy area like a reading corner or go outside with them to help calm them down. Offer a child some sensory stones to feel and relieve their stresses to help calm their breathing.


Being self-conscious and upset

If a pupil is upset or self-conscious they could be battling with an anxiety disorder. It’s not unusual for children to be upset in class or self-conscious however, if this persists there could be something wrong.

When a pupil is noticeably upset, it is best to take them outside of the classroom and give them space to calm down. Don’t ask questions straight away or try to get them to talk. Doing this can be pointless as they will be too emotional and can have trouble expressing their problems. Try and let them know you are there for them. This comforts children which allows them to calm down and even start to open up to you.

Being self-conscious can be down to numerous reasons. It could be triggered by something within the classroom such as being bullied which is something you can control. Or it could be reasons that are out of your control.


signs of anxiety in children- teacher talking to upset boy in class

Fidgeting more often

Helping children with anxiety may be needed if you notice a pupil who is fidgeting a lot. A coping mechanism for anxiety for many children and even adults can be fidgeting with something. Whether this is with their hands or an object. It may seem at first that the child is bored of your lessons and finding something to distract them. Yet, it could be a distraction from their thoughts and worries that anxiety brings to the forefront of their minds. Make a note of it to remind yourself to keep an eye on a child to see if it persists.

Due to constant fidgeting, children can miss out on listening to a lesson and they could even hurt themselves. To reduce this risk, you can accept the need to fidget when a child is facing anxiety. You can do this by giving them a safer way to fidget. Try a palm tangle that can be given when a child is having anxiety so they can cope through fidgeting. Plus, offering them a solution can encourage them to pay attention more as you have given them assistance.


Complaining about feeling unwell

It is without a doubt that teachers will come across children complaining about feeling unwell. There could be a deeper issue to some children’s complaints, and it could be due to anxiety. If a child complains about a persistent stomach-ache, then this could mean they are struggling mentally. Anxiety can create constant stomach aches that aren’t nice for children to cope with. They can feel sick from worrying and overthinking about problems and can even get put off eating.

Try and find ways to reduce these stomach aches where possible and loop the parents in with advice for external help. Another way to reassure children of their feelings and allow them to understand their feelings is through books. This could possibly alleviate their worries and reduce the effects of anxiety. Try our little book of big worries for everyone to read and understand about anxiety. Talk through what they are reading and use it as a tool to work with their anxieties.


Look out for these signs of anxiety in children and understand and validate their feelings. Try your best to support them with the small changes you can make and research charities in your local area that can help pupils further.

Remember if a child holds back from opening up to you, don’t force them to tell you why they can’t concentrate. Anxiety can lead to children not being able to talk about their issues as they can overthink and worry about telling an adult. Log their behaviour down, and if you think it’s a concern, speak to their parents and suggest professional help available.


For more advice on children’s mental health, read our ‘5 ways to spot signs of depression in children.’

<a href="https://blog.hope-education.co.uk/author/amber-vaccianna/" target="_self">Amber Vaccianna</a>

Amber Vaccianna

Hope blog writer

31 January 2023

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