In today’s world, there are lots of scary things for kids to be worried about like the first day of school, getting invited to a birthday party, or monsters under the bed. Mild forms of anxiety are considered normal and every child suffers from it at different phases in their life. Anxiety can actually be good in small doses because it can act as an internal warning system to adequately prepare for a test or avoid unwholesome activities.
However, normal anxiety becomes a problem when a child’s level of distress impacts their quality of life that could prevent them from getting adequate sleep, miss out on social activities, or worry on a frequent basis. When this happens, a child is often suffering from an anxiety disorder which affects one in eight children.
Types of Anxiety Disorders:
The most common types of anxiety disorders for children are:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): This is when a child experiences excessive anxiety, worry, or apprehension which occurs more days than not over a period of time.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Children with OCD feel compelled to repeat small routines or rituals again and again in an attempt to ease their anxiety. Perfectionism is sometimes an early sign of OCD.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder: While some separation anxiety is common in babies and toddlers, older children with this disorder will experience excessive anxiety and misery when separated from their parents or caregivers.
- Social Anxiety Disorder: This type of phobia is an intense fear of situations that require social or performance interactions like speaking in front of a class or conversing with a peer.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: This type of paralyzing or numbing fear happens after a child has witnessed or suffered a traumatic or life-threatening event.
- Panic Disorder: This is when a child has two or more spontaneous anxiety attacks, and then lives in constant fear that it will happen again with no warning.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric illnesses affecting children and adults. Although they are highly and effectively treatable, only about one-third of the population receives professional treatment.
When to Seek Help
When should a parent or caregiver consider seeking help? These are some of the red flags to look for:
- Persistent stomach aches, headaches or other physical complaints
- Frequent nightmares or night terrors
- Difficulty going to sleep or trouble sleeping in a separate room
- Frequent crying
- Avoids going to birthday parties or other social situations
- Refuses to go to school or has had a decline in school work
- Excessive worrying about performance in school or sports
- Repeatedly performs rituals or routines
- Tantrums over minor changes in routines or other mundane issues
- Constant worries over family friends, school, activities
- Unreasonable fear of an object or situation
- Unexplained shortness of breath and/or increased heart rate
- Poor memory and difficulty concentrating
- Excessive clinginess and fear of separation
- Perfectionism or overly concerned with some things being orderly
It’s always painful to see your child suffer from any type of worry or concern, but it can be even more so if you suspect that their anxiety is cause for a deeper concern. In addition to seeking a professional evaluation, parents can help their children by providing routines and strategies designed make their lives easier. These ideas are discussed in more detail in the article, Helping Your Child Cope With Anxiety.
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