Depression and Anxiety in Children: Symptoms To Watch For

Depression and Anxiety in Children: Symptoms May Include Picky Eating Habits

Are mealtimes in your household a constant struggle over trying to get your kids to eat certain foods? Is your kid bored regularly? Are they irritable? While these behaviors are certainly not out of the ordinary when they occur from time to time, if they occur too often, there may be cause for concern. These and other behaviors can be symptoms of anxiety in children.

Common symptoms of depression and anxiety in children

  • Excessive worrying
  • Hopelessness
  • Frequent sadness and/or crying
  • Boredom
  • Low energy
  • Social isolation or phobia
  • Irritability
  • Low self-esteem
  • Picky eating habits

In many cases, symptoms like boredom or picky eating habits are harmless, common childhood behaviors. But studies show that sometimes, they can serve as warning signs of deeper problems.

For example, as a parent you’re more than likely to deal with a picky eater at some point. Picky eating is reported by about 14% to 20% of parents of preschoolers.[1] But it’s important to know that picky eating can in some cases be a real cause for concern.

Moderate and severe picky eating habits are linked to depression and anxiety

In August 2015, the journal Pediatrics published a study that examined the association between picky eating habits and psychological symptoms in over 900 children aged two to six. About 20% of the parents of the children reported selective eating habits, with 17% rated as moderate selective eating and 3% as severe selective eating.[1]

Children who had severe selective eating were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or social anxiety compared to those who weren’t picky eaters. Both moderate and severe picky eating were associated with significant increases in symptoms of depression, social anxiety, and generalized anxiety, while moderate selective eating was also associated with symptoms of ADHD and separation anxiety. Severe picky eating was associated with behavior problems outside of the home.[1]

Another important finding was that picky eating predicted psychological problems later on; kids who displayed selective eating were 1.7 times more likely to have increased symptoms of generalized anxiety after the approximate two-year follow up. This shows that picky eating may serve as a red flag for future mental health problems in a child.[1]

Beware warning signs of depression and anxiety in children

Knowing which symptoms serve as red flags for childhood depression and anxiety is important in monitoring your child’s mental health. If you have reason to suspect anxiety in children, symptoms should be watched carefully and you should visit their pediatrician to discuss possible diagnoses and treatment plans.

To read more about depression and anxiety in kids, read:

If you determine that picky eating isn’t a sign of underlying mental health issues, but simply a harmless habit of your child, read How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables: Use Repetition, Rewards, and Role Modeling for tips on dealing with a fussy eater.

Share your experience

Have you ever noticed any of these anxiety symptoms in your child? How have you approached treating anxiety or depression in your child? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.


[1] Pediatrics. 2015 Aug 3. pii: peds.2014-2386.

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UHN Staff

University Health News is produced by the award-winning editors and authors of Belvoir Media Group’s Health & Wellness Division. Headquartered in Norwalk, Conn., with editorial offices in Florida, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, … Read More

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