Anxiety in Children
Anxiety in children: what you need to know and how to help
Growing up can be an anxious process. Kids have to learn new skills, relate with strangers, overcome unique challenges and fears, and make sense out of a world that is often chaotic. Sometimes, these stressors prove too much to handle for adults much less children. In such instances, children may develop an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health disorders in U.S children. Statistics from the CDC reveal that about 7.1% of children aged 3-17 have a diagnosed anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders often appear to cooccur with other mental health conditions. The CDC further reports that 37.9% of children diagnosed with anxiety have behavior problems and 32.3% of these children also have depression.
What are the types of childhood anxiety disorders?
There are about 6 types of diagnosable anxiety disorders in children. They include:
Separation anxiety disorder
This involves an excessive fear of being separated from their parents or caregivers. For younger children, some element of separation anxiety disorder is normal. as the child gets older, however, it may become a mental health issue. Children with this disorder may have nightmares about their parents leaving them or dying. They also throw tantrums and refuse to go to school or go anywhere without their parents. Sometimes, the disorder may lead to physical symptoms such as headaches or nausea.
Generalized anxiety disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder often presents with noticeable symptoms like irritability, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, sleep disturbances, etc. Children with the disorder have excessive fears about friendships, performance at school or sports, family, and other seemingly mundane issues.
These children switch to an uncomfortably withdraws state when in specific situations. For example, a child that is normally jovial and talkative may refuse to speak to anyone or even maintain eye contact while in school.
Children with specific phobia exhibit extreme fear that is disproportionate to the danger posed by a certain object or situation. Whenever the trigger is present, the child cries, clings to an adult or freezes up. There could be physical symptoms such as increased heart rate.
Children with panic disorder experience frequent panic attacks and they may constantly worry about having another episode. The physical symptoms may include nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, heat sensations or chill, chest pain, and a host of others.
Social anxiety disorder
Children with a social anxiety disorder have an intense fear of interacting with their peers or social gatherings in general. They would refuse to participate in class or sports, attend parties, etc.
How to help kids with an anxiety disorder
If you think your child or a child you know has an anxiety disorder, it is important to seek professional help about the condition. About 40% of children with an anxiety disorder do not receive the help they need. These untreated children are at risk of poor academic performance, poor social skills and are more prone to substance abuse. Professional help may constitute therapy, medications, or a combination of both.
Often parents are tempted to remove their children from situations that trigger their anxiety. This act may be counter-productive in the long run. While getting professional help, it is advised that the children should be tactically exposed to these situations so they can master their fear. Teaching them to manage their anxiety can provide long term benefits, as opposed to avoiding anxious situations all together.