Children’s Anxiety Disorders: 10 Astonishing Symptoms

Anxiety is a natural response of our body toward stress. Generally, a person who has an anxiety disorder has a feeling of fear all the time. Children’s anxiety disorders can hinder their growth and lead to lifelong mental trauma. Hence, it becomes very important to treat the disorders in their premature years

According to a study, the differentiation between normal and pathological anxiety1 can be particularly difficult in children because children manifest many fears and anxieties as part of typical development. Here’s all you need to know about anxiety disorders in children and the steps to manage them effectively.

1. What are Anxiety Disorders?

Children's anxiety disorders
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Anxiety disorders refer to a group of mental conditions characterized by excessive fear or apprehension2 about real or perceived threats, leading to altered behavior and often to physical symptoms such as increased heart rate or muscle tension.

These psychiatric disorders can be hysterical, leading to panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

2. Types of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders can be classified in the following ways:

2.1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder

These are characterized by excessive worry about insignificant things. Nervousness before exams or job-interview comes under this kind of disorder.

Children and adolescents with generalized anxiety disorder3 have persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worries that are not focused on a specific object or situation.

2.2. Panic Disorder

Sudden, intense fear leads to a panic attack. Sweaty palms, shortness of breath, and increased heart rate are all symptoms of panic attack disorder. Children with panic disorder find little relief between attacks.

2.3. Social Anxiety Disorder

People suffering from this disorder find it hard to be social with people. Social anxiety disorder is also known as social phobia. A child with social phobia feels severe anxiety and self-consciousness in normal situations.

The disorder tends to affect children who have gone through puberty. They obsessively worry about them not being good enough or other people judging them.

2.4. Separation Anxiety Disorder

Not only children but even adults can also sometimes find it hard to bid adieu to a loved one. People suffering from separation anxiety disorder are under constant worry that something might happen to their loved ones and are overprotective of them.

Separation anxiety is normal for younger children. Older children and teenagers tend to refuse to go to school, camp, or a sleepover.

2.5. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

People with OCD repetitively carry on some tasks, such as washing hands, organizing things, or reading a passage of text over and over. These activities can significantly hinder their daily activities and lead to stress.

2.6. Selective Mutism

Children with selective mutism 4remain confident in familiar situations but become conscious in unforeseen or specific circumstances. They may avoid eye contact and refuse to communicate with others. It is usually found in preschool children below the age of ten.

3. What are Children’s Anxiety Disorders? 

Children's anxiety disorders
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It is often believed that childhood is the best phase of one’s life. There are no worries, and all you need to do is eat, sleep, and play. However, all children have worries and fears, which may be due to academic pressure or social condition.

Parents of anxious children may recognize the signs and remember feeling and behaving the same when they were younger. Sometimes these small worries last for a prolonged period and formulate into stress or anxiety disorders.

These disorders hamper the daily life activities of children and prevent them from enjoying their childhood as they should.

4. Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders in Children

Children's anxiety disorders
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Signs to be looked out for in children suffering from anxiety disorders include:

  1. Trouble sleeping, nightmares, or insomnia.

  2. Reduced concentration power.

  3. Lack of appetite or compulsive eating.

  4. Sudden mood swings or being out of control during outbursts.

  5. Stomach aches or weakness.

  6. Extreme worry or tension about insignificant things.

  7. The panic attack includes sweaty palms, trouble breathing, and increased heart rate.

  8. Excessive concern with order, arrangement, or symmetry.

  9. Chills or hot flushes. Bad dreams and zero social life.

  10. Tingling sensations and specific phobias

    5

    , where a child is gripped by an intense, irrational fear of a specific object or situation.

5. Causes

Children’s anxiety disorders can be a result of both biological and environmental factors. Traumatic experiences such as starting school, moving, or the loss of a parent or grandparent can trigger the onset of an anxiety disorder.

These disorders can be hereditary as well. But not everyone who has anxiety disorder passes it on to their children. Very often, children can have experienced at school or any other place which may trigger anxiety disorders.

Bullying and abuse can lead a child to feel anxious around people or trigger a panic attack. Unlike the occasional, mild worries children often experience, a panic attack may dramatically affect a child’s life by interrupting his or her normal activities.

6. Treatment

Children's anxiety disorders.
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When should you seek help for your child’s anxiety?

Diagnosis of anxiety disorder in children usually involves talking sessions with a therapist after one has experienced the symptoms. A child or teen with symptoms of anxiety should have regular health checkups.

This helps make sure that no other health problem is causing the symptoms. Children having anxiety disorders can be helped psychologically and medically.

Most importantly, the child should be able to disclose all his feelings. They should be comfortable with the therapist or the family member. Many children develop anxiety disorders which may go after a short while with the parent’s reassurance.

However, It is always a good idea to seek professional help. Initial help can be sought from a local youth counseling service.

A medical health professional can be approached if the anxiety is not getting better or getting worse, self-help is not working, and it’s affecting their social relationships.

Treatment for anxiety disorders includes the following:

6.1. Counselling

It is the first and foremost step when it comes to dealing with anxiety disorders. It can help the child understand what’s making them anxious and allow them to work through the situation.

They’ll ask how and when the child’s anxiety and fears happen most. This helps them diagnose the specific anxiety disorder the child has. Counseling can be taken up by either a family member or a professional medical health practitioner.

6.2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Also known as talk therapy, it can help the child manage their anxiety by changing the way they think and respond to certain situations.

It also helps them to become aware of inaccurate or negative thoughts so that they can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them more effectively.

6.3. Medication

If the anxiety does not get better with therapy, it can be offered to alleviate the symptoms. They are usually only prescribed by doctors who specialize in children’s and young people’s mental health.

A type of antidepressant called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) may help your child feel calmer and differently about things.

7. What Can be Done by the Guardians to Help Their Children?

Children's anxiety disorders
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The recovery process from anxiety can be a tough task. Therefore, everyone from friends to family members must contribute to the support system.

Talk with your child. And most importantly, listen. If you suspect at all that your child needs help, let a mental health professional assess your child’s situation.

The following steps can help someone cope with anxiety:

  1. Listening to their feelings and problems.

  2. Recognizing and praising small accomplishments.

  3. Being flexible to their routines and lifestyle.

  4. Planning and being ready for unforeseen circumstances.

8. Why are Some Children Affected and Others Not?

Anxiety is a sensitive topic, and everyone has their way of dealing with it. It may be easy for some children while extremely difficult for others.

However, that doesn’t hinder the management of the disorder. All that is required is to understand the symptoms with the children and help them cope at their own pace.

While it’s normal for children to frequently have fears and worries, some anxious children may grow up to develop a long-term condition called generalized anxiety disorder when they become a teenager or young adults.

Some children are simply born more anxious than others. Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autistic spectrum disorders are more likely to have problems with anxiety.

9. Summary

Anxiety disorders in children refer to a group of mental and physical conditions usually triggered by previous traumatic and stressful events. These disorders can be due to environmental factors or hereditary.

Anxiety symptoms include a racing heartbeat, troubled breathing, sweating palms, tingling, twitching, etc. Anxiety disorders in children can be managed with therapy and medication. For that matter, support from friends and family is essential.

The intensity of the disorder can be different depending on the symptoms experienced by the child. Treatments include medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, and counseling. The symptoms can be dealt with with support from friends and family.

  1. Belzung, Catherine, and Guy Griebel. “Measuring normal and pathological anxiety-like behaviour in mice: a review.” Behavioural brain research 125.1-2 (2001): 141-149. ↩︎
  2. Kogan, Cary S., et al. “The classification of anxiety and fear‐related disorders in the ICD‐11.” Depression and anxiety 33.12 (2016): 1141-1154. ↩︎
  3. Wittchen, Hans U., and Jurgen Hoyer. “Generalized anxiety disorder: nature and course.” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 62 (2001): 15-21. ↩︎
  4. Black, Bruce, and Thomas W. Uhde. “Psychiatric characteristics of children with selective mutism: A pilot study.” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 34.7 (1995): 847-856. ↩︎
  5. Wolitzky-Taylor, Kate B., et al. “Psychological approaches in the treatment of specific phobias: A meta-analysis.” Clinical psychology review 28.6 (2008): 1021-1037. ↩︎

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Ekta Dwivedi

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