Anxiety in children is a genuine problem that is much more common than most people realize. How do you know if the signs you are seeing in your child are normal? If you are concerned that your child might be struggling with anxiety, here is what you need to know to help them manage their symptoms and have a normal childhood.
Anxiety in Children
All children experience anxiety at some point in their lives. Anxiety is a natural part of life, even in childhood. However, as many as one in eight children have an anxiety disorder. However, the Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report revealed that a whopping 80 percent of children with a diagnosable anxiety disorder are not receiving treatment. Research has found that children with untreated anxiety disorders are more likely to have trouble in school and engage in substance abuse. With treatment, children with anxiety disorders can learn to manage their anxiety. To be clear, the goal of treatment is not to eliminate anxiety in children but rather to manage the symptoms.
Anxiety Disorders in Children
At times, anxiety can even be useful by helping to keep us safe and pushing us to do our best. But when anxiety begins to interfere with daily activities, the problem may go deeper. When anxiety in children becomes a full-blown disorder, the signs typically involve worsening fear, nervousness, and shyness that makes children avoid places and activities. There are eleven anxiety disorders that can affect children.
11 Recognized Anxiety Disorders
- Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviours - This cluster of habitual behaviors includes hair pulling (Trichotillomania), skin picking (Skin Excoriation), nail biting, nose picking, and lip or cheek biting.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder - Children with this disorder worry excessively about daily life events.
- Health Anxiety - These disorders feature excessive anxiety over somatic or physical symptom and involve a fear of having an illness.
- Hoarding Disorder (HD) - Children with this disorder have strong urges to acquire and save items, regardless of their value (or lack thereof).
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) - Children with OCD have unwanted thoughts (obsessions) which lead them to engage in repetitive physical or mental behaviors (compulsions).
- Panic Disorder & Agoraphobia - These disorders go hand in hand. Children develop a significant fear of being in at least two locations. They avoid these places because they are worried about experiencing a panic attack. Symptoms of a panic attack include difficulty breathing, racing heart, sweating, sense of danger or doom, and chest pain.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - This disorder occurs after a traumatic experience. Symptoms include disturbing vivid memories, nightmares, and flashbacks of the event, among others.
- Social Anxiety Disorder - These children have an intense fear of social situations because they don't want to embarrass themselves or be judged by other people.
- Selective Mutism - This childhood anxiety disorder is marked by consistently refuses to speak in some situations but is able to speak normally in others.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder - Children with this disorder have an intense fear of being away from their primary caregivers.
- Specific Phobias - A phobia is a persistent, excessive and unreasonable fear of an object or situation.
The following video explains anxiety disorders in children:
Anxiety Symptoms in Children
Although each anxiety disorder has its own specific criteria, there are several symptoms of anxiety in children that every parent should know. Among the anxiety symptoms parents might notice are:
- excessive worry most days of the week, for weeks on end
- trouble sleeping at night or sleepiness during the day
- restlessness or fatigue during waking hours
- trouble concentrating
Parents who notice these symptoms in their children should contact their pediatrician. Only a medical professional can accurately diagnose an anxiety disorder. Your doctor can develop a treatment plan that may involve counseling and if necessary, medication, which can help control symptoms.
Anxiety and ADHD
Children with ADHD can have trouble with anxiety as a result of their disorder. The daily stress of living with ADHD can result in anxiety in children. However, these children can also have anxiety disorders in addition to ADHD. In fact, children with ADHD are at higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder than the general population. Here are some signs and symptoms of anxiety in children with ADHD:
- Clowns around in class
- Irritable or argumentative
- Lies about schoolwork or other responsibilities
- Withdraws from people
- Plays video games or watches TV nonstop
Helping Your Child
If you suspect your child might have an anxiety disorder, the most important thing you can do for them is to contact their doctor so they can get the treatment they need. There are effective treatments available that can allow kids with anxiety disorders to have a normal childhood. In addition to seeking professional help, here are ten tips for helping your child manage their anxiety.
- Remember that the goal is to manage symptoms, not to eliminate the anxiety completely.
- Don't allow your child to avoid things that make them anxious. This just reinforces the idea that avoiding something they fear makes them feel better.
- Respect your child's fears but don't empower or amplify them.
- Don't ask leading questions about feelings.
- Express positive but realistic expectations.
- Don't reinforce your child's fears.
- Encourage your child to tolerate his/her anxiety.
- Keep the anticipatory experience as short as possible.
- Think things through with your child.
- Model healthy ways of dealing with anxiety.
Anxiety in Childhood is Manageable
Children who suffer from anxiety face a daily struggle, which can make growing up even harder than it usually is. However, with proper treatment, anxiety in childhood is manageable. Children can learn strategies for handling their anxiety so that they can face their fears, thus allowing them the opportunity to enjoy their childhood and just be kids.
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