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ADHD or Anxiety? It Could Be Both!


Did you know that, according to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), about 3 in 10 children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also have anxiety? With the school year in full swing, anxieties may be high for you and your kids. This could also be an especially difficult time for those who struggle with ADHD. Distinguishing the differences between ADHD and anxiety disorder can be difficult. Understanding some of the symptoms of each can help you and your child more effectively navigate school year. 


Anxiety Symptoms and Coping Techniques

Preschoolers (3-5 years)

  • Tantrums 
  • Crying
  • Freezing behavior
  • Avoidance
  • Quickly getting angry and irritable
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Wild imaginations

If your child is acting out because they are feeling overwhelmed, ask them to start by explaining what and how they are feeling. Anxiety can be difficult for children to understand, so it is important to be patient and walk them through their feelings one step at a time. Stay with your child until they feel relaxed, but then let them try to be independent. Let your child know that you are proud of them for communicating with you to work through their feelings. Try teaching your child deep breathing techniques, taking deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth with them until they feel more relaxed. 


K-2 Graders (4-7 years)

  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches
  • Clinginess
  • Change in appetite
  • Constant worrying or negative thoughts
  • Difficulty concentrating

If you suspect that your child is having a panic attack, help make them aware of their surroundings through grounding techniques. Ask them to name a few items they can see or things they can hear. This will help distract them from their worries and allow them to become more relaxed. Try asking your child to draw a picture or write out their worries. Talk to them about what their pictures mean to help gain a better understanding of what they’re feeling. This can also help you get to know what may trigger their worries. 

Keep routines that are consistent and familiar. If your child demonstrates signs of clinginess or worry at school drop-off, keep your routine simple with a hug goodbye. Making drop-off routines too long can make it harder for your child to be separated from you. Keeping a consistent routine lets them know they are capable of getting through the day on their own.


3-6 Graders (8-11 years)

  • Feeling tense and fidgety 
  • Seeking constant approval or reassurance from others
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Stomach aches 
  • Headaches 
  • Insufficient sleep 

Distraction methods like listening to music, painting, or drawing can help soothe your child’s worries by helping them clear their mind. Prompting your child to keep a journal when they feel anxious, including a list of things that they overcame throughout their day, is a good way to understand and talk about some of the triggers that may be causing their anxiety response. This also gives you the opportunity to provide reassurance that they’re doing a good job. 


Middle Schoolers/High Schoolers (12-18 years)

  • Withdrawal from social activity 
  • Avoidance of difficult or new situations
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Recurring fears/worries about everyday situations
  • Extreme self-consciousness
  • Sensitive to criticism 
  • Irritability 

Encouraging your child to go for a walk or engage in light exercise, even for a few minutes, can help them clear their mind and manage some of the physical symptoms that come along with anxiety. You can even go for a walk together! This will allow you to talk with them about their current struggles and provide space for them to share some of their worries or overbearing thoughts. Taking the time to talk and listen to your child is very important, especially when it comes to anxiety. When someone is experiencing anxiety, remember that their fear is very real, - even if it may seem small to you. Making an effort to understand their perspective and fears, rather than discrediting them, will help you and them better manage their anxiety and find effective solutions. 



ADHD Symptoms and Coping Techniques

Preschoolers (3-5 years)

  • Overly fidgety and squirmy
  • Losing interest in activities quickly
  • Often climbing onto things
  • Talking or making more noise than their peers
  • Lack of interest in activities that last 5 minutes or more

Using positive reinforcement when your child completes a task can encourage them to keep going. Avoid rushing to punishment when your child misbehaves. Instead, try to remain patient and calm while carefully explaining what you want them to do. Use of negative reinforcement may discourage your child from ever completing the desired task. Incorporating pictures, stories, or songs to help navigate a task may help keep your child focused - and it can be a fun way to get something done!


K-2 Graders (4-7 years)

  • Trouble sitting still
  • Getting easily distracted 
  • Low attention spans while playing or doing schoolwork
  • Fidgeting 
  • Constantly needing movement

Establish a consistent routine. Routines are important for children, especially those living with ADHD. Clear expectations can help them succeed. Try creating a checklist for your child’s tasks. The act of checking off boxes can be encouraging by providing positive feedback. If your child struggles to sit still, build in the opportunity for extra movement. This will help give your child the physical break they need to complete a task. 


3-6 Graders (8-11 years)

  • Trouble staying organized
  • Trouble finishing schoolwork or chores
  • Losing things often
  • Avoiding or resisting tasks 
  • Acting restless
  • Trouble listening

A long list of expectations or tasks can be overwhelming. Keeping things simple and taking it one step at a time will help your child stay focused and feel more encouraged to keep going. If your child is struggling to finish schoolwork at home, set a timer for every 10-15 minutes to allow them a break to stand up, stretch, or just move around. It takes patience, but this will help them not feel too discouraged and pressured to finish everything all at once. 

Establish some time throughout the week or at the end of each day to help keep your child organized. Children who struggle with ADHD often feel restless or rushed, so you may find loose pencils or papers in their backpack. Teaching them how to stay organized can increase productivity. 


Middle Schoolers/High Schoolers (12-18 years)

  • Emotional outbursts
  • Constant daydreaming
  • Impulsiveness
  • Procrastination
  • Fidgeting
  • Aggression
  • Mood swings
  • Struggling to pay attention

Take time to talk to your teen and set updated goals. Understand how ADHD may affect them at school, at home, or with other activities, and set short-term goals that are realistic and achievable. As your child experiences life changes, ADHD can start to affect them differently. Avoid blaming, nagging, or lecturing your child. Negative responses can increase unwanted behaviors. Instead, pay special attention to what they are doing well and praise them for it. 



If symptoms of anxiety or ADHD persist or worsen, it may be time to seek help from a medical professional. 

Learn more about anxiety disorder: 

Learn more about ADHD: raising