How Childhood Anxiety Leads to Disruptive Behavior

Nov 01, 2023
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Feelings of nervousness can easily lead to disruptive behavior, especially in children. Left untreated, these issues can follow them into adulthood.

Every child deserves to feel safe and self-confident, but an anxiety disorder can make this difficult. Before they can learn what these feelings mean and how to manage them, their anxiety can worsen, causing disruptive behavior at home, in the classroom, and in their personal lives. To alleviate symptoms and side effects of anxiety, proper diagnosis and treatment are necessary. 

At P.S. Psychiatry in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Dr. Mitchell Kho and his team help children suffering from anxiety and other disorders through in-person appointments and remote telehealth options. We can help give your child the tools they need to manage their anxiety without disruptive behavior.

Childhood anxiety and misbehavior 

When a child begins to misbehave or display disruptive behavior, many parents and teachers immediately respond to deter them using punishment. 

However, for children with undiagnosed anxiety, negative consequences for these actions will only leave them confused and frustrated, feeding the larger issue. They may begin acting out in other ways or repress these feelings and become withdrawn and nervous. 

Some children even display oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) symptoms, often interpreted as intentionally malicious. Anxiety symptoms can vary widely from child to child and can include any of the following in any combination: 

  • Irritable mood 
  • Short or explosive temper
  • Argumentative attitude 
  • Refusal to follow rules or obey authority 
  • Hateful or vindictive behavior 
  • Inability to take criticism 
  • Obvious frustration 
  • Tantrums

If your child is having difficulty following rules, expressing and applying themselves, or getting along with others, it may be a sign that they’re struggling with their mental health. The disruptive behavior is simply a cry for help.

It’s an unhappy fact that childhood stress and anxiety are often missed or misdiagnosed. A child who struggles to stay in their seat and asks many questions may be assumed to have ADHD, while one with extremely consistent behaviors and fears might be seen as having OCD. 

Diagnosing and treating anxiety

When it comes to treating children, it’s important that they are given the proper space and skills to understand and manage how they are feeling. There are multiple types of anxiety, and it can sometimes take time and effort to figure out what’s bothering your child. 

Generally speaking, anxiety disorders in children can be split into three types:

  1. Generalized anxiety: fear of daily or existential issues, such as family strife, food or housing insecurity, illness, etc.
  2. Social anxiety: fear of participating in class, sports, games, presentations, and other social activities 
  3. Separation anxiety: fear of being alone or abandoned by family or guardians 

Children can also suffer from panic attacks and phobias, which are considered anxiety disorders in their own right. Phobias and panic disorders often occur comorbidly with other forms of anxiety. For example, a child with separation anxiety may also have a phobia of dentists or planes, while another may have both generalized anxiety and panic attacks. 

Lack of control over their lives can lead to feelings of insecurity and anxiety in children. With cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), your child can learn the necessary skills to appropriately identify and cope with their emotions rather than lashing out or misbehaving. For cases of severe anxiety, medication options can also be discussed.

Have you noticed stressed or disruptive behavior in your child? Schedule a consultation with P.S. Psychiatry by calling 267-884-1824 or request an appointment online