Fears and worries are a normal part of life. In fact, certain kinds of fears are a normal part of child development. For example, older infants and toddlers experience separation anxiety when they are away from their parents. As young children begin developing an imagination, they may fear the monster in the closet. Yet some children are more affected by their worries. Their schoolwork, ability to make friends and relationships with their family are affected by their fear. Teens who have untreated anxiety disorders may turn to drugs or alcohol to ease their symptoms.
Anxiety disorders are probably the most common of all mental health problems that affect children and teens. In fact, about one in ten children will have an anxiety disorder some time during their lives. Anxiety disorders often go undiagnosed, because children can hide the symptoms from their parents and teachers. Anxiety disorders can disappear without treatment or explanation, or they can be long term. Anxiety disorders also respond very well to treatment.
There are several types of anxiety disorders that are common in childhood. They include:
- Social phobia, which is an intense fear of being rejected or embarrassed in front of others. These children fear situations that someone without the disorder does not find anxiety producing. They may be afraid to talk to others (adults or peers), starting conversations, or going to class. They appear to others to be very shy.
- Separation anxiety disorder is characterized by the child’s fear of being away from home or from their family. It is considered a disorder if it happens to a child who is pre-school age or older. It is a normal part of development for children between the ages of 6 months and three years.
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is marked by ritual behaviors (such as hand-washing, rearranging objects or counting). The child feels he or she cannot stop the behavior. Children with OCD may also have repeated intrusive thoughts, such as thoughts of violence or tragedy. Older children usually know that their fears or behaviors are irrational, but they can do nothing to stop them.
- Post traumatic stress disorder usually appears after the child experiences a trauma such as an accident, a natural disaster or being the victim of or witnessing violence,. Symptoms can develop within days after the event, or take months to develop. The symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, depression, feeling angry and extreme anxiety.
- Panic disorder is less common in children than in adults, but some children do get panic attacks. Symptoms of a panic attack include shortness of breath, pounding heart, tingling or numbing of the hands and feet, hot or cold flushes or a feeling that they will lose control or "go crazy."
Tips For Families
- Blaming yourself or others is not productive. Even if you believe the anxiety resulted from something in the child’s life, you need to focus on the present and how you and your child can overcome the anxiety.
- Be patient with your child. Simply telling a child to stop worrying or stop washing her hands will not make her fears disappear. Be understanding. Try to lessen the child’s fears by telling her truth that is grounded in reality.
- Encourage your child to develop methods that will help her deal with the anxiety on her own. You will not always be there to soothe her fears, so she needs to learn coping methods she can use at school and when she is away from loved ones.