Sketch of child sitting cross legged with head resting on the child's hands

WELCOME to the Feeling page where you can learn about your child’s Emotional well-being. Anxiety, withdrawal, irritability, depressive thoughts, mood swings fall within the feeling area.

All children experience some level of sadness and anxiety in life. It is when these symptoms take over and impact day to day functioning that it is important to intervene.

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Children with emotional problems may have poor adaptive skills. Adaptive skills are another way of saying “Day to day functioning.” Emotional ssues can cause changes in behavior, sleep or appetite.

Here are some signs that your child may be experiencing emotional distress:

  • A teenager who spends all day in his or her room
  • A child who lacks interest in activities that used to be fun (aka. anhedonia)
  • A child who shows a sudden decline in school performance
  • A child who has extreme tantrums
  • A teenager who says “I hate my life”
  • A child with unusual fears
  • A child who has a hard time making friends or maintaining close relationships

If these sort of symptoms cause difficulty for your child more days than not, you are wise to be concerned. There is a difference between mild and more significant symptoms. Some children have a higher level of negative emotionality or are more sensitive just in genetic makeup. It is the struggles in relationships, day to day happiness and overall success in life that may lead these symptoms to get in the way. 

Depression is marked by depressed mood or lack of pleasure in activities your child used to enjoy. In children and teens, irritability may be obvious while depressed mood may be harder to see. To be diagnosed with depression a child must exhibit one of these symptoms as well as 4-6 other symptoms which may include: restlessness, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, suicidal thoughts, changes in sleep patterns, or changes in appetite. The number and severity of symptoms impact the severity of diagnosis.

Bipolar Disorder is marked by depressive episodes as described above as well as manic or hypomanic symptoms which may include grandiosity (feelings of importance or accomplishment that are extreme), flight of ideas (lots of ideas that feel fast and disconnected), pressured speech (speech that feels rushed, fast, pressured), goal-directed activity (staying up all night to finish a project), involvement in activities with painful consequences or risk (dangerous sports, i.e. attempting ski jumps, rock climbing, jumping off the roof or out of a tree, drug and alcohol risks, spending money).

Anxiety is marked by feelings of worry more days than not about a number of different topics/experiences/things. Anxiety must interfere with day to day functioning. Other symptoms include restlessness, avoiding experiences out of fear, changes in sleep or appetite, attention difficulties. There are a number of specific anxiety disorders like phobias, separation anxiety, and social anxiety.

Researchers believe that there is a continuum between depression and anxiety. Anxious symptoms now and then can be very manageable and even adaptive. Some level of stress or anxiety may motivate your child. Example “I’m worried about that math test!” Leads to “I’m going to study.” If anxiety symptoms go unchecked and a child does not develop coping strategies or an outlet for stress and worry then depressive symptoms may develop. These can certainly exist together and depression is marked by feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that can make it hard to enjoy life. Persistent irritability may be seen in children who are depressed. A number of children, teenagers, and adults struggle with anxiety and depression. The good news is symptoms can get better with a mix of coping strategies, therapy, and sometimes medical treatment.

Considering the information provided in these articles may help you determine whether emotional symptoms such as worry and sadness are interfering with your child’s day to day life. It may be important to consider whether your concern will require more support for your child from a professional like a doctor, psychologist or counselor.