Anxiety disorders among children have become more commonly recognized and diagnosed. As with adults, children can have different types of anxiety disorders. It is important to be able to recognize these and get the appropriate treatment for the child.
What is Anxiety Disorder in Children?
A certain level of anxiety is normal for children, the issue is when it becomes excessive. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, one in eight kids is affected by some form of anxiety disorder.
When a child has a test or a sporting event, they may feel a certain level of stress or worry, and this is normal. It becomes problematic when the stress is more than normal, and the child cannot be comforted.
As with anxiety in adults, there are several types of anxiety disorders including:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Social anxiety
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Panic disorder.
Some of the more common anxiety disorders in children are: separation anxiety disorder, specific phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Most children will feel certain negative emotions or fears when being left with someone other than their primary caregiver. However, when it becomes problematic is when they don’t adapt to the new situation. Simply being in a separate room in the house can cause stress in a child who has separation anxiety.
Signs of separation anxiety are:
- Doesn’t want to go to school or daycare
- When away from primary caregiver they will call them as often as possible
- Child tells the parent he is physically ill to avoid separation or to force them to come pick them up if they are not together
- Throws tantrums when being dropped off somewhere cries and doesn’t want to let caregiver go
- Doesn’t want to do activities with peers such as sleepovers or play-dates
- Worries about something bad happening to their caregiver.
Having a fear of something that is dangerous is normal, but it becomes problematic when the child will actively try to find ways to avoid encountering the feared object or situation, having a negative effect on their lives.
Phobias fall into four categories, these are:
- Animals (spiders, dogs, snakes)
- Environmental (Heights, water, storms)
- Blood/injury (getting a needle, cut)
- Situations (flying, elevators).
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD):
It is estimated that one in 200 children in the United States have OCD. OCD is when a child has obsessive disturbing thoughts and images that don’t go away and cause them to have repetitive type behaviors.
What kind of obsessive thought may a child with OCD have?
- With regards to germs or cleanliness
- Worrying about a family member getting hurt, something bad happening like a fire
- Obsessing about order, details, and symmetry
- Obsessively trying to memorize general facts that are not important to them.
What kind of compulsive behaviors may a kid who has OCD exhibit?
- Washing hands over 100 times per day
- Constantly checking things, like if the doors are locked
- Has everything arranged according to a certain order, and will get upset if someone changes this order
- Constantly counting and recounting things
- Asking the same questions over and over
- Repeating words or sounds.
Although anxiety in children is getting recognized more, unfortunately, many of those diagnosed are not getting the treatment necessary. For this reason, it is important as a parent or caregiver to be aware of the signs. If you suspect a child in your life to suffer from anxiety, contact their doctor or a mental health practitioner to get them evaluated.