Children with anxiety disorders may not show exactly the same symptoms as adults. For example, in addition to fear and worry, they may also show anger or irritability.
It is understandable for parents to worry about their children’s anxiety, but it is important to know that some childhood anxiety is normal and expected. Nevertheless, some children do suffer from anxiety disorders. Fortunately, there are steps parents can take to help their children receive treatment and cope with anxiety.
Common childhood troubles
There are many things that usually cause worries and anxiety among children of different ages. New situations, challenging tasks, and even unfamiliar people can cause fear and anxiety in children from time to time.
Other age-appropriate fears include:
- Stranger anxiety starts at 7 to 9 months old and subsides around 3 years old
- Preschoolers’ fear of darkness, monsters, insects and animals
- School-age children are afraid of heights or storms
- Schools and friends who worry about school-age children and teenagers
These childhood fears are normal, and they usually alleviate on their own as the child grows up. To show the true symptoms of anxiety, it takes more than occasional anxiety, which may be normal.
Signs and symptoms of children with anxiety disorders
Although occasional anxiety is common, it is also common for children to suffer from anxiety. Although estimates of prevalence vary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 7.1% of children between the ages of 3 and 17 have a diagnosable anxiety disorder.
Children with real anxiety symptoms may experience the following symptoms:
- Anger or aggression
- Avoid certain situations
- Changes in appetite
- Having trouble at school
- Muscle tension
- Nervous habits, such as nail biting
- Refuse to go to school
- Social withdrawal
- Difficulty falling asleep (insomnia)
The frequency and appearance of symptoms may vary depending on the nature of anxiety. Certain fears (such as social anxiety or phobias) may be triggered by specific situations, objects, or circumstances. Other types of anxiety, such as generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder, may cause more frequent symptoms.
Other indicators of concern include symptoms that interfere with children’s learning, interaction with peers, night sleep, or the normal functioning of daily life.
It is also a concern that normal childhood fears continue to the age when they are expected to disappear (for example, fear of the dark or leaving parents before school age).
Types of childhood anxiety
Like adults, children may also suffer from other anxiety disorders, from separation anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) to panic attacks. Some signs of anxiety are easier to spot, but other anxiety disorders may be harder to spot.
Some different types of childhood anxiety disorders include:
Separation anxiety includes excessive fear of separation from parents and caregivers. This type of anxiety is common in young children, but usually begins to diminish when the child is 3 or 4 years old. Symptoms of separation anxiety are usually easy to detect and include refusal to go anywhere without a parent or caregiver, refusal to sleep alone, or refusal to go to school.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
As part of the diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), the child should have evidence of excessive fear and worry for six months or more (the above symptoms may appear), and it should be triggered by more than one thing, such as work, school Feeling anxious with friends.
In addition, children with generalized anxiety disorder will have difficulty controlling their worrying emotions, which will bring them pain and some damage. For example, they may be so upset because they are not sleeping that it is difficult for them to keep in touch with friends, or their grades may drop because they cannot concentrate.
Children with generalized anxiety disorder may also have physical symptoms such as headaches, abdominal pain, and muscle aches.
In addition to generalized anxiety disorder, children may also have more specific phobias. They become anxious and worried, but only because of very specific triggers such as thunderstorms, spiders, being alone or going to the swimming pool.
Although these children may cry, may cling to their parents, or think they will be around what they are really afraid of, fortunately, most children have gotten rid of this type of anxiety disorder.
Children with obsessive-compulsive disorder may have repeated intrusive thoughts (obsessed) about certain things, and they are often accompanied by their repetitive behaviors or mental behaviors (compulsions), such as washing hands frequently, checking things over and over or repetitions Certain words or phrases respond to your obsession.
Although not common in children, panic attacks are another anxiety disorder that becomes more common in the later stages of adolescence. In addition to strong fear or discomfort, the definition of a panic attack requires the following four or more symptoms:
- Feeling unreal (realization) or separation from oneself (depersonalization)
- Chest pain
- Chills or hot flashes
- Feeling suffocated
- Fear of losing control
- Feeling short of breath
- Nausea or abdominal pain
- Numbness or tingling (paresthesia)
- Palpitations or increased heart rate
Of all the anxiety disorders in children, selective mutism is probably the most overlooked one because people think these children are very shy. Children with selective mutism actually refuse to speak and may only talk to close family members at home. In school or other situations, when they are asked to speak, they tend to become anxious and very uncomfortable.
Help anxious children
Fortunately, anxiety disorders can be treated. If anxiety symptoms interfere with your child’s normal daily activities, please consult your child’s pediatrician, child psychologist and/or child psychiatrist. For school-age children, school counselors can also provide support, advice and referrals for further evaluation and treatment.
It is also important to note that just like adult women, girls are about twice as anxious as boys. Because anxiety will get worse if it is not treated in time, experts recommend that all girls 13 years and older should be screened for anxiety during routine health checks.
Parents can also do something at home to help children learn how to manage their anxiety. Strategies that may help:
- Don’t avoid things that your child is afraid of. Although this may provide short-term relief, using avoidance as a coping mechanism can exacerbate anxiety and worsen over time.
- Provide comfort and demonstrate positive responses. Listen to your child’s concerns, but be careful not to exacerbate those fears. Instead, help your child practice relaxation techniques while responding appropriately, non-fearing, to the root causes of your child’s anxiety.
- Help your children learn to tolerate their fears. Exposing your child to the source of their fear gradually, while using relaxation techniques to calm their fear responses can help them learn to endure pain and eventually learn that there is nothing to fear.
The way parents cope with anxiety affects the way children cope with fear. Although parents should not pretend that they are not anxious, they should focus on showing their children that this is something that can be calmly tolerated and managed effectively.