ANXIETY IN CHILDREN
– A Parent’s Guide –
Here’s a parent’s guide to childhood anxiety.
So if you want to start the journey to better understanding your child’s anxiety (or even if they might be anxious), you’ll enjoy this overview.
Let’s jump in!
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Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Children who have generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, feel a high amount of worry, nervousness, and fear.
This typically shows up as physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms.
Their anxiety is focused on a number of different things and is severe enough to significantly hurt their ability to thrive in relationships, school work, or other activities.
Signs of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Your child may have:
- muscle tension,
- diarrhea or stomach aches,
- be restless or easily startled,
- become tired easily
- have trouble relaxing and sleeping.
Your child may be worried about:
- their grades in school,
- being judged in social contexts,
- getting sick or hurt,
- losing a loved one, or
- be a perfectionist.
For these children, the worries they have are not proportionate to reality and they feel out of control of their worries.
He or she may avoid age appropriate activities, not be able to concentrate on tasks, or become easily frustrated or oppositional as a result of their worries.
Panic Disorder in Children
A panic attack is a sudden feeling of fear and anxiety that is very intense that takes several minutes to subside.
Attacks could occur at various rates such as one time per week for several months or every day for a couple of weeks followed by none for many weeks.
Children with panic disorder experience recurrent panic attacks that happen unexpectedly and are worried they will have more panic attacks or change their behavior related to the attacks such as attempting to avoid them.
An attack could start when a person is anxious or when they are calm, when awake or asleep.
Signs of Panic Disorder / Attacks
- Heart rate increasing.
- Trembling or numbness.
- Shallow breaths or feelings of choking.
- Feeling nauseous or dizzy.
- Feeling hot and cold alternately.
- Feeling detached from yourself.
- Feeling like you will die.
Worries people have about anticipating a panic attack include peers mistaking symptoms for other life-threatening emergencies, embarrassment about showing symptoms in public, and fear that they are “crazy” or out of control.
More on Panic Disorder
According to the CDC via National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 0.4% of children ages 8-15 will have a diagnosis of a panic disorder in any given 12-month period. (SOURCE)
Separation Anxiety Disorder in Children
Separation anxiety disorder is diagnosed when a child has anxiety about leaving a primary caregiver that is beyond what is developmentally expected at the child’s age.
With these children, excessive fear and symptoms related to separation from a caregiver last more than four weeks.
This condition often starts after a major life event that is stressful for the child such as a death in the family or a move to a new place.
Signs of Separation Anxiety Disorder
- Excessive anxiety and physical symptoms (like headaches and stomach aches or vomiting) when thinking about or actually going through separation.
- Worrying about an event causing separation such as getting lost or a caregiver dying.
- Fear of being alone or leaving the house, refusing to sleep away from caregivers, and having nightmares about separation.
- These symptoms must be severe enough that the child’s relationships, school work, or other daily activities are significantly impacted.
This may show in your child as withdrawal, anger or aggression toward the person causing separation, or a “demanding” personality in need of a lot of extra support and attention.
Signs of Social Anxiety Disorder
- Your child may become fearful while thinking about or being in social situations,
- Avoiding social situations,
- Fear of doing something socially inappropriate that will make others judge them.
Sports Performance Anxiety in Children
When your child athlete is participating in their sport, they need adrenaline. Adrenaline feels like pre-game jitters and nervousness. This is normal.
However, for some athletes, their pre-game jitters make them feel extra jittery and weak, or their nervousness turns into nausea, interfering with their performance.
Signs of Sports Performance Anxiety
Developing symptoms stemming from anxiety:
- Stomach pains
- Feeling dizzy
- Irritability and trouble sleeping
- Pretending they are sick or injured to avoid participating, going to practices, or games
Changes in thinking or unusual behavior, such as:
Decreased confidence during sport
If you would like help navigating your child’s anxiety, please give us a call. We specialize in helping anxious children.
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