Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children and, if they go unrecognized and untreated, can lead to poor school performance or socialization, loss of sleep and even eventual substance abuse.
Anxiety disorders in children
While anxiety is a normal emotional response to stress, anxiety disorders are psychiatric illnesses characterized by constant and overwhelming worry or fear. Anxiety types and their symptoms can include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder – This condition involves excessive and/or unrealistic, often unprovoked worry and stress.
- Phobia – This is an intense fear of a specific situation or object that may lead to avoidance of everyday activities.
- Social anxiety – This condition is associated with overwhelming self-consciousness or worry about being judged in social situations.
- Separation anxiety – This is the most common anxiety condition in children and often involves fear that something will happen to family members, or to the child himself or herself, if they are apart.
- Panic disorder – In this condition, feelings of intense fear strike suddenly and regularly, without warning. Physical symptoms like irregular heartbeats, muscle tightness, shortness of breath and sweating often occur.
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) – This type of anxiety takes the form of excessively preoccupying thoughts or repetitive actions performed to try to relieve the anxiety.
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – This condition results from a traumatic experience. Sufferers may have nightmares, flashbacks and unexplained fear.
Ways to ease fear and anxiety in children
- Pay attention to your child's feelings and listen to his or her concerns
- Stay calm when your child becomes anxious about a situation
- Praise accomplishments and avoid punishing mistakes
- Modify your expectations and be flexible with plans during stressful periods
- Talk to your child's doctor if you have additional concerns
Hear more about ways to recognize anxiety and help your child cope.
How to treat anxiety in children
Your child's doctor, or a therapist recommended by the doctor, may try a form of talk therapy – called cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) – to help your child figure out ways to think and act in situations that normally cause anxiety. The doctor or therapist may recommend relaxing activities, breathing exercises or positive thinking to help your child manage anxiety producing thoughts. Your child's doctor may also recommend individual psychotherapy, parent guidance sessions, group psychotherapy (with other children) or school-based counseling, depending on your child's needs. If your child's anxiety is severe and does not respond to behavioral therapy, the doctor may recommend a type of antidepressant – known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) – to reduce symptoms.
- American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- Recognizing Childhood Depression and Anxiety - WebMD
- National Institutes of Health
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