Anxiety disorders are very common amongst children and adolescents, and it is believed that 13% of them suffer from them. And even though they are very well documented, quite often they are misdiagnosed and if left untreated can lead to even further complications. Stressful events such as loss of parent or sibling, divorce or separation of the parents, abuse, family conflicts, moving to a new location or a new school can cause worries and in most cases these mild anxieties are quite normal. Once they start interfering with the child’s normal activities though, like the ability to learn and perform well in school, the ability to make new friends, and result in loss of normal sleep, then the child is suffering from anxiety disorder.
If a child is experiencing any of the symptoms below almost every day for at least six months, then it is likely that he or she is suffering from anxiety disorder. The most common physical symptoms are stomach ache, headache, muscle discomfort, hyper-activity, sleeping discomforts, diarrhea, feeling sick, chest tightness, etc.
Oftentimes, children do not outwardly show physical symptoms but if you suspect that your child is in a challenging situation, you should also monitor for non-physical symptoms. Some non-physical signs of anxiety disorders to watch out for are:
Worry – this, of course, is normal for any child and is usually experienced before a test, a school play that the child performs in, a field trip, or any other events that the child might see as important. However, children with anxiety disorders seem to worry excessively without any reason and they would worry excessively about school, friends, past or future events, or meeting new people.
Fear of separation is quite normal for infants and toddlers, but if this fear is experienced at a later stage, then this might be a sign of an anxiety disorder. An older child, who refuses to go anywhere without the parent, sleep alone, or go to school alone, might be suffering from anxiety.
Phobias – fear of particular situation that most people don’t find threatening. These phobias can be the extreme fear of dogs, closed spaces, heights, spiders, etc. Usually children with phobias will try everything in their power to avoid situations which scare them.
Panic attacks – just like adults, children can suffer from panic attacks too. In some cases they are associated with other anxiety disorder symptoms like phobias and stress, or they can be totally unexpected and unprovoked. These are often misdiagnosed and not treated on time, which in turn means that they might be experienced in the adulthood too. Panic attacks occur more often amongst teenagers than amongst younger children, and are usually associated with physical symptoms like nausea, palpitations, sweating, shaking, and numbness.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – children can suffer from OCD just like the adults and in most cases that would translate into constantly washing their hands, repeating a certain “ritual,” or being obsessed with particular thoughts.
Selective mutism – this is a condition where the child stops speaking. It can be caused by other anxiety, as well as some biological factors. This is also quite often misunderstood since parents think that their child is simply refusing to speak while in fact he or she is unable to speak. This makes selective mutism one of the most overlooked anxiety disorders amongst children.
In most cases the anxiety disorders are diagnosed in children between the ages of six and eight, it is also believed that the temperament of the child is of importance as well: children and are shy and introverted are more likely to suffer from anxiety. Parents should always consult a doctor if they suspect that their child is showing symptoms of anxiety disorder since if they are not treated in time, this might lead to difficulties in the adult live of the child too.
The fear of an anxiety attack by itself can trigger an attack. This is true as reported by many anxiety disorder patients and after resolving the “meta” fear, most reported an immediate cessation of anxiety attacks.