A child who appears to be oppositional or aggressive may be reacting to anxiety—anxiety he may, depending on his age, not be able to articulate effectively, or not even fully recognize that he’s feeling.
“Especially in younger kids with anxiety you might see freezing and clining kind of behavior,” says Dr. Rachel Busman, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, “but you can also see tantrums and complete meltdowns.”
Check out this article on “How Anxiety Leads to Disruptive Behaviour” by Caroline Miller, editorial director of the Child Mind Institute.
The more commonly recognized symptoms of anxiety in a child are things like trouble sleeping in his own room or separating from his parents but it can also present as temper tantrums, or disruption in school, or throwing themselves on the floor while out running errands. It may present as violent outbursts, being easily provoked, or difficulty regulating emotions, just as easily as it can present as isolation, clinging to the familiar, and avoidance tactics.
It can be difficult to identify when it presents in young children or where communication is limited. Anxiety may be mistaken for ADHD, Oppositional Definance Disorder, or aggression. It may also be present in addition to other conditions such as Autism / Aspergers (ASD).
Everybody gets anxious sometimes but clinical anxiety can put the body in permanent Fight or Flight mode and severely restrict quality of life. It’s important to discuss concerns with teachers and doctors; advocate referral to a pediatric mental health unit for assessment and support.