Children and Anxiety
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns for children and adults, affecting upwards of 20% of children and adolescents over the lifespan.
Anxious youth are often quiet and well behaved, and thus frequently go unnoticed by their parents, teachers, and coaches.
Alternatively others can be disruptive and act out, being labeled as having attention deficit disorder or being a “bad” kid. Both scenarios result in youth failing to receive the help they desperately need. Sadly, untreated anxiety can lead to depression, missed opportunities in career and relationships, increased substance use, and a decreased quality of life.
When Anxiety Begins in Childhood
Anxiety is a normal part of childhood, and every child goes through phases. A phase is temporary and usually harmless. But children who suffer from excessive anxiety sometimes requires anxiety treatment.
A child who sees a scary movie and then has trouble falling asleep or has a similar temporary fear can be reassured and comforted. But that is not enough to help a child with an anxiety disorder get past his or her fear and anxiety.
Research into children and anxiety has found that some type of anxiety disorder affects one in eight children. The same research revealed that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.
Anxiety disorders also often co-occur with other disorders such as depression, eating disorders, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). With treatment and support, your child can learn how to successfully manage the symptoms of an anxiety disorder and live a normal childhood.
Common Types of Childhood Anxiety
The following are the most common types of anxiety disorders in children and teenagers.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
If a child has generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, he or she will worry excessively about a variety of things such as grades, family issues, relationships with peers, and performance in sports.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD is characterized by unwanted and intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and feeling compelled to repeatedly perform rituals and routines (compulsions) to try and ease anxiety.
Panic Disorder and Panic Attacks
Panic disorder is diagnosed if a child suffers at least two unexpected panic or anxiety attacks which means they come on suddenly and for no reason followed by at least one month of concern over having another attack, losing control, or “going crazy.”
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Children with posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, may have intense fear and anxiety, become emotionally numb or easily irritable, or avoid places, people, or activities after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic or life-threatening event.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Many children experience separation anxiety between 18 months and three years old, when it is normal to feel some anxiety when a parent leaves the room or goes out of sight. Usually children can be distracted from these feelings.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is characterized by an intense fear of social and performance situations and activities such as being called on in class or starting a conversation with a peer.
Children who refuse to speak in situations where talking is expected or necessary, to the extent that their refusal interferes with school and making friends, may suffer from selective mutism.
A specific phobia is the intense, irrational fear of a specific object, such as a dog, or a situation, such as flying. Common childhood phobias include animals, storms, heights, water, blood, the dark, and medical procedures.
Therapy for Children and Anxiety
Like other medical conditions, anxiety disorders tend to be chronic unless properly treated and can get worse in adulthood. Most children find that they need professional guidance to successfully manage and overcome their anxiety. Fortunately, research examining children and anxiety has found that therapy can be an effective intervention.