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ADHD and Anxiety in Children: Understanding the Connection and Strategies For Support

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that affects people of all ages. It can impact many areas of life, from school and...
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ADHD and Anxiety in Children: Understanding the Connection and Strategies For Support

03/07/2023
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According to the CDC, three in ten children with ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) also experience an anxiety disorder.

ADHD and anxiety often go hand-in-hand; in order to provide the best possible support for your child’s wellbeing and development, it’s important to recognise and address both conditions.

Today, we’ll delve into the complex relationship between anxiety and ADHD in children. We’ll explore the symptoms to watch out for, discuss potential causes, and most importantly, provide effective strategies for supporting children with ADHD and anxiety.

If you suspect that your child may be experiencing both ADHD and anxiety, our team of experienced consultant psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and ADHD behavioural coaches are here to help. Book an assessment with us today and take the first step towards providing your child with the support they need to thrive.

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The Relationship Between ADHD and Anxiety in Children

Understanding the connection between ADHD and anxiety is crucial to effectively supporting children who experience both conditions; however, identifying the difference between the symptoms, and understanding where ADHD and anxiety can overlap, isn’t always straightforward.

There are three recognised subtypes of ADHD: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, and combined type.

Types of ADHD

Inattentive type
Children with this type may struggle with paying attention, following instructions, organising tasks, and often appear daydreaming or forgetful.

Hyperactive-impulsive type
Children with this type may be excessively active, fidgety, and have difficulty staying seated. They may also act impulsively without considering consequences.

Combined type
This type combines symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

The link between ADHD and anxiety is significant, with studies indicating that the two conditions frequently overlap. Both ADHD and anxiety share some common features and can impact a child’s daily functioning. For instance, they can influence each other in a number of ways:

  • Anxiety can exacerbate ADHD symptoms, making it harder for a child to focus or engage in tasks.
  • The impulsivity and hyperactivity seen in ADHD can contribute to feelings of anxiety in children.
  • Children with ADHD and anxiety may experience heightened emotional sensitivity and have difficulty managing stress.

Common Symptoms of ADHD and Anxiety

ADHD in children can present various symptoms that affect their daily functioning. The signs of ADHD can vary greatly between children, depending on a range of factors including the specific type of condition; with that said, here are some common symptoms of ADHD:

  • Inattention: Difficulty paying attention, being easily distracted, and making careless mistakes.
  • Hyperactivity: Excessive restlessness, fidgeting, and difficulty staying seated.
  • Impulsivity: Seeming to act without thinking, interrupting others, and difficulty taking turns.
  • Forgetfulness: Forgetfulness in completing tasks, losing things, and struggling with organisation.
  • Challenges in following instructions: Children with ADHD may have trouble following instructions or finishing tasks.
  • Time management difficulties: Struggling with time management, and/or being easily sidetracked.

It’s important to note that the symptoms of ADHD can vary in severity and may differ between individuals.

Similarly, anxiety can manifest in various ways in children, and when it co-occurs with ADHD, it can present unique challenges. Here are some common signs and symptoms of anxiety in children:

  • Excessive worrying or feeling ‘on-edge’
  • Restlessness or difficulty sitting still
  • Trouble sleeping, or experiencing nightmares
  • Avoidance of certain situations or activities
  • Physical symptoms like headaches or stomachaches
  • Being easily startled, or having a heightened startle response
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing due to worry

Contributing Factors of Anxiety in Children with ADHD

Children with ADHD are often more susceptible to experiencing anxiety; there are several factors that can contribute to this. Understanding these factors is helpful in gaining a fuller-picture of ADHD, anxiety, and their co-occurrence.

Neurobiological Factors and Brain Chemistry

Neurobiological differences and imbalances in brain chemistry play a significant role in both ADHD and anxiety.

Children with ADHD may have non-typical activity in the brain regions responsible for regulating attention and emotions. These differences can contribute to difficulties in managing attention and emotions, leading to heightened anxiety symptoms.

Environmental Stressors

Equally, external factors can greatly impact a child’s anxiety levels. Children with ADHD may be more vulnerable to environmental stressors such as family dynamics, life changes, peer relationships, and school environments. High levels of stress, disruptions at home, or inconsistent routines can exacerbate anxiety symptoms in children with ADHD, making it crucial to create a supportive and predictable environment to help alleviate anxiety.

Academic Pressure

The academic demands placed on children can be overwhelming – particularly for those dealing with the effects of ADHD.

Difficulties with attention, impulsivity, and organisation can make it challenging for children to keep up with assignments, follow instructions, or complete tasks on time. Struggling academically can lead to increased anxiety related to performance, self-esteem, and fear of failure.

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Effective Support Strategies

When it comes to supporting children with ADHD and anxiety, implementing effective strategies is the key to their wellbeing, happiness and success.

By adopting a collaborative approach and providing individualised accommodations, along with developing coping skills and emotional regulation techniques, parents, teachers and guardians can empower children to navigate their symptoms effectively.

Collaborative Approach: Parents, Educators, and Healthcare Professionals

Collaboration between parents, educators, and healthcare professionals is vital in creating a supportive environment for children with ADHD and anxiety.

By working together, everyone can contribute to the child’s success and wellbeing. For example:

  • Parents can provide valuable insights into the child’s needs and help by following strategies at home
  • Educators can implement classroom accommodations and communicate with parents about the child’s progress
  • Healthcare professionals can provide a childhood ADHD assessment, along with guidance, support, and evidence-based interventions to address the child’s specific needs

Developing Coping Skills and Emotional Regulation Techniques

Equipping children with effective coping skills and techniques for emotional regulation is also important.

For instance, carers can help by teaching children deep breathing exercises, or mindfulness techniques to help manage anxiety symptoms. It’s also beneficial to provide tools for self-reflection and emotional awareness; this might include activities such as journaling or guided imagery.

Organisational strategies could also be included. This might involve creating to-do lists or using visual schedules, to reduce stress and improve focus.

Individualised Accommodations and Supportive Interventions

Recognising that each child is unique, it’s helpful to implement individualised accommodations and supportive interventions where possible.

This might mean modifying the learning environment to minimise distractions and optimise focus; equally, parents and guardians could communicate with the child’s teachers about academic accommodations, such as extra time for assignments or seating arrangements.

Providing additional support through counselling, therapy, or ADHD coaching to address specific challenges and build resilience will also benefit the child in navigating the effects of ADHD and anxiety.

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Creating a Nurturing Environment

In order to help navigate ADHD and anxiety in children, it’s crucial to establish a nurturing environment that promotes wellbeing and growth. By encouraging a calm and structured home environment, reducing academic pressure, and emphasising healthy lifestyle habits, you can create a holistic and supportive environment.

Promoting a Calm, Structured Home Environment

Maintaining structure and a calm atmosphere at home can greatly benefit children with ADHD and anxiety. By establishing consistent routines, providing clear expectations, and keeping spaces organised, children can feel more secure and supported.

For example, setting regular meal times, implementing a designated study area, and creating a daily schedule can help reduce anxiety and improve focus.

Reduce Academic Pressure and Build Resilience

Children with ADHD and anxiety may feel overwhelmed by academic demands – it’s important to strike a balance between academic achievement and promoting their overall wellbeing.

By focusing on progress rather than solely on grades, providing support for task management, and fostering a growth mindset, children can build resilience and develop a positive attitude towards learning.

Healthy Lifestyle Habits and Self-Care

As with all children, healthy habits are helpful in terms of development and emotional wellbeing. Encouraging the following habits can create a positive impact:

  • Regular physical exercise to release energy, improve focus, and reduce anxiety
  • Adequate sleep to support overall wellbeing and cognitive functioning
  • Balanced nutrition to provide essential nutrients for brain health
  • Relaxation techniques (such as deep breathing or mindfulness) helps manage stress and promote self-regulation

Benefits of Addressing ADHD and Anxiety in Children

By proactively addressing and treating ADHD and anxiety in children, we can take positive steps towards improving their well-being and enhancing their overall quality of life. Here are some key benefits that can be achieved:

  • Improved emotional wellbeing and reduced anxiety symptoms: Addressing ADHD and anxiety can help children experience a greater sense of emotional stability, reducing feelings of worry, fear, and distress.
  • Enhanced academic performance and engagement in school: With appropriate support and interventions, children can improve their focus, attention, and organisation skills, leading to better academic performance and increased participation in classroom activities.
  • Strengthened coping skills and resilience: Through targeted interventions, children can develop effective coping strategies, problem-solving abilities, and resilience, enabling them to navigate challenges with greater confidence and adaptability.
  • Better self-regulation and emotional control: Treatment for ADHD and anxiety can contribute to improved self-regulation, reducing impulsive behaviours and promoting emotional control.
  • Enhanced social skills and positive peer interactions: Addressing ADHD and anxiety can help children develop their social skills, such as effective communication, empathy, and cooperation, leading to improved peer relationships and social interactions.
  • Increased quality of life for children: By managing ADHD and anxiety effectively, children can experience an improved quality of life, with reduced stress, improved self-esteem, and greater overall wellbeing.

ADHD and Anxiety in Children: The Bottom Line

The connection between ADHD and anxiety in children is undeniable. Both the conditions often co-occur; understanding this overlap is crucial for providing effective support.

Coping strategies play a vital role in helping children with ADHD and anxiety navigate their challenges. By equipping them with tools to manage their emotions, develop resilience, and build effective coping skills, we can empower them to face difficulties with confidence.

The benefits of doing so are far-reaching. By seeking an ADHD diagnosis and the appropriate treatment, parents can help their child experience:

  • Improved emotional wellbeing
  • Enhanced academic performance
  • Strengthened resilience skills
  • Better self-regulation
  • Improved social skills
  • An overall higher quality of life

Early intervention and targeted support can make a significant difference in a child’s development and long-term outcomes. If you suspect that your child may have ADHD or if you notice signs of anxiety, we encourage you to take the next step and book an ADHD assessment today.

FAQs About ADHD and Anxiety in Children

Browse our most frequently-asked questions related to ADHD and anxiety in children below, or contact our team now.

Can anxiety symptoms mimic ADHD in children?

Yes, anxiety symptoms can sometimes mimic ADHD symptoms in children, leading to confusion and potential misdiagnosis. While both conditions share some common symptoms like difficulty concentrating, restlessness, and impulsivity, anxiety symptoms may be more situational and triggered by specific stressors. A comprehensive evaluation by a qualified professional can help differentiate between the two and ensure accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

What are some non-medication interventions for managing ADHD and anxiety?

There are several non-medication interventions that can effectively manage ADHD and anxiety in children.

These include cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), to address negative thought patterns, anxiety triggers, and develop coping strategies. Parent and teacher training programs also help to learn behaviour management techniques and create consistent support across different environments.

Alternatively, mindfulness and relaxation techniques to reduce stress, improve self-regulation, and enhance overall wellbeing.

How can parents and educators work together to support children with co-occurring ADHD and anxiety?

Collaboration between parents and educators is crucial in supporting children with co-occurring ADHD and anxiety. Aim to maintain open communication, sharing observations, concerns, and strategies that work. You can also work together on an individualised education plan to provide necessary support in the school setting. It’s important to consistently implement strategies, both at home and at school, to create a structured and supportive routine.

Are there any specific therapeutic approaches that are effective for treating ADHD and anxiety?

Yes, several therapeutic approaches have shown effectiveness in treating ADHD and anxiety in children. Cognitive-behavioural therapy can help address and modify negative thinking patterns, teach coping skills, and manage anxiety symptoms. Additionally, social skills training assists in improving interpersonal relationships and communication, and mindfulness-based interventions enhance self-awareness and emotional regulation.

How can I create a supportive environment at home for my child with ADHD and anxiety?

To create a supportive environment at home for a child with ADHD and anxiety, consider the following:

  • Establish consistent routines and structure to provide predictability and reduce anxiety
  • Encourage open and honest communication, actively listening to their concerns
  • Offer praise and positive reinforcement for effort, progress, and accomplishments
  • Create a calm and organised physical environment to minimise distractions
  • Provide opportunities for physical activity, as exercise can help reduce anxiety and improve focus
  • Teach and model healthy coping strategies, such as deep breathing and mindfulness, to manage stress and regulate emotions

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