How to Tell the Difference Between Behavioral Issues and Anxiety in Kids

Photo of Caucasian teen girl with brown hair seated on a wooden chair with her head in her hands looking down with a person seated opposite her. Photo could represent that she is struggling with anxiety and is having a counseling session with her solution focused brief therapist in Illinois or Florida.

As a parent, it can sometimes be difficult to determine if your child is struggling with anxiety or behavioral issues. Both have strikingly similar symptoms, making it hard to distinguish between the two.

Anxiety and behavioral issues can both cause your child to be irritable and easily agitated, as well as have difficulty concentrating and sleeping. However, there are some key differences to look out for.

What Causes Behavioral Issues and Anxiety in Kids?

First, WHY do our children develop anxiety and behavioral issues in the first place?

Well, anxiety in kids is usually triggered by certain situations or events, whereas behavioral issues tend to be more consistent and occur in many different situations.

For example, if your child gets anxious in certain social situations, or when it’s time to take a test, it’s an indication of anxiety. If your child is behaving poorly regardless of the situation, it’s more likely to be a behavioral issue.

It’s also important to look at the root causes of your child’s behavior.

Anxiety is often the result of a stressful situation, a traumatic event, a difficult family situation, or a lack of support.

Behavioral issues in children can be caused by a variety of factors, including difficulty regulating emotions, understanding social cues, and managing stress. Children may also display aggressive behavior or act out in order to cope with or express their feelings.

Behavioral issues can also be caused by environmental factors such as a lack of structure or discipline in the home, or an absence of positive reinforcement or rewards.

One way to get to the root cause is to talk to your child and ask what’s causing them to feel anxious or behave in a certain way.

What Does Anxiety in Kids Look Like?

Anxiety is a natural emotion that everyone experiences, but when it becomes excessive and prolonged in children, it can be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety in children presents itself in many different ways, and it’s important for you to be aware of the symptoms in order to recognize when your child might need extra support.

Anxiety in children is characterized by a combination of physical, behavioral, cognitive, and emotional symptoms.

Physical Symptoms:

Physical symptoms of anxiety in kids include sweating, stomachaches, headaches, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, difficulty breathing, and increased heart rate. Kids may also appear more irritable and become easily overwhelmed.

Behavioral Symptoms:

Behavioral symptoms of anxiety include avoidance of activities or situations that make them feel anxious, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, fidgeting, avoiding certain situations or people, and acting out. They may also have trouble making or keeping friends or become overly clingy to family members.

Cognitive Symptoms:

Cognitive symptoms of anxiety in kids include excessive worrying, negative self-talk, difficulty making decisions, and self-doubt. They may also have difficulty controlling their thoughts and can become easily overwhelmed by them.

Emotional Symptoms:

Emotional symptoms of anxiety include feelings of fear,  panic, and sadness.

What Do Behavioral Issues in Kids Look Like?

Behavioral issues in kids are usually quite stressful for parents, especially when the behavior is disruptive or out of control.

Common behavioral challenges are likely to manifest as

  • Defiance
  • Aggression
  • Frequent outbursts or temper tantrums
  • Attention-seeking behavior
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Trouble making or keeping friends
  • Excessive mood swings
  • Poor academic performance
  • Lying
  • Cheating
  • Stealing
  • Poor hygiene
  • And other inappropriate behaviors

While these behaviors can be normal for certain ages and stages of development, they can also be signs of more serious underlying issues.

The first step then in addressing behavioral issues is to identify the underlying cause. Besides your child’s age and developmental level, assess for any medical or mental health conditions that may be present.

It can also be helpful to consider your home environment, including any family stressors or other factors that may be influencing your child’s behavior.

Once the underlying cause is identified, begin to formulate an effective parenting plan. A plan can include setting limits and expectations, providing appropriate consequences, and utilizing positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors.

Photo of smiling African American boy wearing a knitted hat and striped shirt while holding a toy in his hands. Photo could represent how much better he feels after working through his anxiety and behavioral issues with his online therapist for kids in Illinois.It’s equally important to ensure that your child feels safe, understood, and supported, as this can help to reduce the likelihood of negative behaviors.

Therapy for Kids Can Help!

There will be times however, when you try multiple parenting strategies, and nothing seems to work. This is true whether your child is struggling with anxiety or behavioral issues. In these cases, it’s essential to seek the help of a qualified mental health professional with whom both you and your child feel comfortable expressing your feelings and concerns.

The therapist can provide you with suggestions for behavior modification and positive reinforcement for behavioral issues or practical ways to help and comfort your child with anxiety. And for your child, interacting with a trained mental health professional ensures they receive the best possible treatment, care and support.

Lastly, stay consistent and be patient. Both behavioral issues and anxiety in kids can take time to sort out, and there may be some setbacks along the way. Remember that children are learning and growing, and that their behavior is a reflection of their learning and development. With patience, understanding, positive parenting strategies, and perhaps therapy, it’s possible to resolve both behavioral and anxiety issues in kids.

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 African American girl seated on a beige couch smiling and holding her iPad in her hands while leaning forward on the coffee table. Photo could represent an online therapy session with her online solution focused brief therapist in Illinois for anxiety treatment. 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.