Can ADHD Masquerade as Anxiety in Kids?

Photo of young Caucasian boy wearing grey sweatpants and an orange sweatshirt. He is holding a big stick in his hands and smiling. Photo could represent that he has ADHD and needs online solution focused brief therapy for anxiety in Illinois or Florida.

Both Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Anxiety are common issues that a lot of kids face. Often, ADHD can look very similar to Anxiety and vice versa so that it can be hard to tell the two apart. That means that your child’s symptoms might look like Anxiety, even though they have ADHD.

It’s important to make the distinction between the two conditions however, as they are different disorders and require different treatments. In this article, I’ll discuss how ADHD can present itself as Anxiety, the signs and symptoms to look out for in your child, and what can be done to get the correct diagnosis and treatment.

What is Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition that makes it hard for your child to focus and pay attention. They may have trouble controlling their behavior as well as feel very restless and find it hard to sit still.

Kids with ADHD can have trouble staying on task when doing activities, such as schoolwork, and may be easily distracted. They may also find it hard to control their emotions or keep a cool head.

Symptoms can differ from person to person and may look different in adults than they do in kids. If left untreated, ADHD can cause both academic and relationship difficulties. Treatment for ADHD includes medications, therapy, or a combination of both.

Symptoms of ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can cause a range of symptoms. In children, symptoms often include:

  • Difficulty paying attention and easily distracted
  • Having difficulty focusing on tasks
  • May fidget or squirm when sitting still for long periods of time
  • May have trouble playing quietly
  • May talk excessively, interrupt others, and have difficulty waiting their turn
  • May cause memory problems, which can make it hard to remember instructions and do schoolwork
  • May act impulsively and act without thinking about what the consequences may be.

It’s important to note that every individual is different and not everyone with ADHD will experience the same symptoms.

Ways ADHD Can Mimic Anxiety

ADHD can often mimic symptoms of Anxiety in children, which can lead to misdiagnosis by medical professionals or even family members. The most common symptoms of ADHD, such as difficulty focusing, impulsivity, and restlessness, are easily mistaken for symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

In addition to the symptoms already mentioned, ADHD can lead to additional difficulties such as executive functioning deficits, low self-esteem, social problems, difficulty getting organized, and difficulty managing emotions. The constant need to multi-task for those with ADHD can also contribute to your child feeling anxious even if it’s not an Anxiety disorder per se.

To distinguish between ADHD and an Anxiety disorder, it’s important to look at the underlying source of the anxiety. While anxiety is often associated with a fear or worry of the future, those with ADHD may feel overwhelmed by the present more than the future.

Equally important to consider is the duration of the symptoms – those with ADHD may experience symptoms consistently over time, while those with an Anxiety disorder may experience periods of heightened anxiety.

A mental health professional can help accurately diagnose and treat ADHD-related anxiety. Therapies such as solution focused brief therapy and medication (e.g. stimulants) can help alleviate symptoms and help your child better manage their ADHD.

How Parents Can Help their Child with ADHD Feel Less Anxious

Anxiety can be a tremendous obstacle for those with ADHD, both children and adults alike, as it can slow progress in every aspect of their lives. It can be especially challenging for parents, as you try to find the right balance between helping your child manage their ADHD symptoms and addressing their other needs.

Fortunately, there are things you can do as a parent to help your child manage their anxiety and cope with the day-to-day challenges ADHD can bring.

Create an environment that is supportive and understanding

Children with ADHD can be especially vulnerable to criticism or negative judgement, so it’s important to take the time to talk with your child and really understand what’s going on inside their head. When you do this, be sure to focus on strengths and successes while gently guiding them towards solutions, instead of issuing commands that can come off as overly critical.

Give your child plenty of positive reinforcement and rewards for good behavior

Positive reinforcement and rewards can give them the motivation they need to work towards their goals and combat negative feelings. Regularly provide your child with praise and positive reinforcement for achieving incremental goals and they will start to gain the confidence and self-esteem they need to manage their ADHD and anxiety.

Establish a consistent routine for them

Schedules are especially important for those with ADHD, as they help to maintain structure and remove any feelings of confusion or chaos. Having a schedule will also help your child better manage their emotions and reactions to scenarios, enabling them to better prepare for and address stressful situations.

Provide your child with relaxation techniques

These relaxation techniques can be as simple as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or even guided imagery. They help to calm down the body and mind, which in turn can help to reduce anxiety. By making relaxation techniques a part of your child’s daily routine, it will become easier for them to remain calm in high-pressure situations.

Make sure your child gets plenty of physical activity

Exercise can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and boost overall mood, as it helps to release “feel good” hormones called endorphins. Additionally, physical activity can help to improve concentration and focus, which is especially important for those dealing with ADHD.

Overall, anxiety can be a frustrating and difficult obstacle for kids with ADHD, but there are things you can do to help your child effectively manage it. By creating an environment that is kind and understanding, reinforcing good behavior, establishing a consistent daily routine, teaching relaxation techniques, and encouraging physical activity, you can help your child find the right balance and progress towards their goals.

In conclusion, it’s important to understand that ADHD can often mimic an Anxiety disorder, and the two diagnoses are often confused with one another. Having either diagnosis can be challenging to navigate, and understanding the key differences between Anxiety and ADHD is important when seeking medical help. Rest assured, with correct diagnosis and proper treatment, managing either ADHD, Anxiety, or both is doable for your child.

Begin Online Therapy for Kids and Teens with Anxiety in Illinois and now Florida.

If your child or teen is struggling with anxiety, including panic attacks, there is hope! Anxiety is highlyPhoto of dark haired mother and young daughter taken from the angle of the ceiling. They are sitting at a desk, facing the open lap top in front of them on the desk and girl has her right hand on it. Photo could represent an online counseling session for child anxiety with their online solution focused brief therapist in Illinois. treatable and online anxiety treatment at Briefly Counseling can help.

Using Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, I help kids and teens reduce their anxiety and build resilience so they can become a happier, more confident version of themselves.

And kids love being able to receive counseling from the comfort and privacy of their own home. Studies have consistently proven that online therapy delivers equal results to in-office counseling.

As an experienced and caring therapist, I love providing counseling for anxiety. To start your child’s counseling journey, call me at 224-236-2296 or email to schedule a FREE 20-minute consultation.

Helena Madsen, MA, LCPC is the founder of Briefly Counseling. I specialize in providing online short-term anxiety treatment for kids and teens ages 7 – 18 as well as Christian counseling.

Whether you’re on the North Shore, in Naperville, Chicago, Champaign, Barrington, Libertyville, Glenview, or downstate Illinois, I can help.

And effective 2024, I am now licensed in Florida! For parents in Jacksonville, Pensacola, Destin, Crestview, Coral Gables, Weston, Parkland, Naples, Marco Island, and Pinecrest, I have immediate openings.

Schedule your appointment or consultation today. I look forward to working with your child to quickly and effectively help them in activating their strengths, resources, and resilience, in order to live with confidence and hope.