Anxiety Disorders in Children
Anxiety in Normal Children
All children get nervous at times. Problems in school or in the family can make a child anxious and worried, and some children are “worry warts” by nature. Certain situations affect some children more than others.
- New situations or meeting strangers make a shy child nervous
- Performing in a school play or making a class presentation can be hard for children with “performance anxiety”
- Separation can be very difficult for some young children
- Learning-disabled children worry a lot about homework and tests.
Such reactions may be of concern to you and you may want to get some professional advice, but they do not rise to the level of a “psychiatric disorder.”
What Is an Anxiety Disorder?
An anxiety disorder is caused by a combination of biological and hereditary (nature) and environmental (nurture) factors. The worry, tension and anxiety are severe. They can make a child’s life miserable and interfere with functioning and relationships.
What Are the Symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder?
If your child suffers from an anxiety disorder, you will recognize some of the following:
- Persistent and severe fears and worries
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches and hyperventilation
- Expecting the worst, asking constant “what if” questions
- Worries about parental illness or death
- Night fears and nightmares.
Are There Different Kinds of Anxiety Disorders?
Yes. The anxiety may be present virtually all the time or be much more pronounced in some situations.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The child’s symptoms are present all day, but especially at night.
Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia). The child is afraid of and avoids groups and other social situations.
Separation Anxiety Disorder (School Phobia). The child, even in elementary school, will not leave the parent and panics if forced to do so. In extreme cases, a total refusal to go to school follows, and some children cannot even leave the home or be alone in their room.
Specific Phobia. Fear of needles or blood, in extreme cases, results in terror and the child’s refusal to go to the doctor or dentist.
Panic Disorder. This disorder is more often seen in adolescents but can also occur in children. A panic attack is terrifying. It can occur suddenly, sometimes for no apparent reason. The symptoms include dizziness, trembling, sweating, pounding heartbeat and chest pain. The child feels as if she cannot breathe and is going to faint, or he believes he is going crazy and is going to die.