ADHD and anxiety are different, and each struggle will have different treatment options. Knowing how to help a child with both ADHD and anxiety can be a frustrating process. Here, we explain the differences, common characteristics, and steps to help you parent well.
What are the differences between ADHD and anxiety?ADHD, also known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a condition that can cause a multitude of challenges for children and adults who are diagnosed with it.
Some of the symptoms may be the inability to sustain attention on a topic or in an activity that the child isn’t highly interested in; frequent daydreaming or checking out of his or her right-now environment; inability to get and stay organized; and forgetfulness. However, many researchers believe that children and adults with ADHD may also be highly sensitive to the needs of others and exceptional in other areas, such as the arts.
One of the misnomers among children with ADHD is that they will always do poorly in school. This is not true. Some students with ADHD struggle because of their decreased executive functioning skills (planning, breaking large goals into small ones, and designating enough time for specific tasks). However, some students with ADHD have pretty good grades or even excel in one or more areas.
Only a trained psychologist can diagnose ADHD. Because there are three types — inattentive type, hyperactive type, and combination type — it is best that a licensed educational psychologist be the one who evaluates and assesses whether a child has ADHD. One of the main reasons for this is that some of the symptoms of ADHD, such as what may appear to be daydreaming, could be a sign of something else like anxiety.
While all kids and adults feel worried or anxious at times, it’s important to delineate generalized anxiety disorder as separate from the everyday worries that are common to most. When a child has a diagnosis of anxiety, he or she may spiral, meaning that all the anxious thoughts come at once and they’re circular. One seems to impact the other, and they don’t go away easily as a common worry might in a child without an anxiety disorder.
There are many types of anxiety, so for these purposes, we will focus on generalized anxiety. Some common symptoms include:
- Fear of being judged or fear of making the wrong choice (and therefore worrying over what others think of him or her).
- Worrying about topics that don’t typically match the child’s life stage, such as death, catastrophic events, or world disasters .
- Going to the extreme of a decision, the worst-case scenario, when the situation doesn’t merit it.
- Frequently having nervous energy so much so that he or she struggles to let go and relax regularly.
One of the difficulties in understanding whether a child has ADHD and anxiety or simply ADHD or anxiety is that some of the symptoms mimic one another. Children with ADHD can have anxiety, and children with anxiety can have ADHD.
Which symptoms are common to both ADHD and anxiety?
Both disorders can cause low self-esteem even with interventions. But the earlier the diagnosis and intervention, the easier it is to help a child develop a positive view of himself or herself.
A child with ADHD may struggle socially if he or she is hyperactive and talks so much that others don’t feel heard. On the other hand, a child with anxiety may struggle socially because of fear and withdrawal. Interestingly, intentional withdrawal and being left out can appear the same to adults looking in from the outside.
Children feel their emotions acutely in both ADHD and anxiety, but they may show those emotions differently. An anxious child may have learned to minimize the extent of his emotions to please others. A child with ADHD, though, may not share with a caregiver how much he feels alienated at school due to perceived social or academic inequality.
How can I help my child?
Knowing how to parent a child with both conditions is tricky. As parents, you typically want a solution that will work through the ages and stages of your child. However, parenting strategies and habits need to change over time with your child.
The best way to help your child is to undergo parent training and enlist the help of a trained psychologist who specializes in working with families who have children diagnosed with both ADHD and anxiety. Contact our offices today, and we can help you find a trained professional to walk with you on this journey. It may not be easy, but your child will know that he or she is greatly loved as you learn new practices, habits, and skills to help.
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