Anxiety Disorder In Children

It’s normal for anxiety disorder in children to feel worried or anxious from time to time, such as when they’re starting school or nursery, or moving to a new area.

It’s understandable that parents would worry about their child’s anxiety. But it’s important to know that some childhood anxiety is normal and expected. Still, some kids do have anxiety disorders. Fortunately, there are things that parents can do to help their kids get treatment and cope with feelings of anxiety.

Common Childhood Anxiety:

There are a number of things that normally cause worry and anxiety for kids of different ages. New situations, challenging tasks, and even unfamiliar people can lead to fear and anxiety in children from time to time.

Other age-appropriate fears include:

  • Stranger anxiety beginning at 7 to 9 months of age and resolving around age 3
  • Fear of the dark, monsters, insects, and animals in preschoolers
  • Fear of heights or storms in younger school-age children
  • Worry about school and friends in older school-age children and teens

What are the signs and symptoms of anxiety disorder in children?

As much as it is common to have occasional anxiety, it is also common for children to have anxiety disorders. While estimates of the prevalence vary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 7.1% of children between the ages of 3 and 17 have diagnosable anxiety.

Children with true anxiety symptoms may experience symptoms that include:

  • Anger or aggression
  • Avoiding certain situations
  • Bedwetting
  • Changes in appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Getting in trouble at school
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Nervous habits such as nail-biting
  • Nightmares
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Restlessness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Stomach aches
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)

What causes anxiety disorders?

  • Biological factors:    The brain has special chemicals, called neurotransmitters, that send messages back and forth to control the way a person feels. Serotonin and dopamine are two important neurotransmitters that, when “out of whack,” can cause feelings of anxiety.
  • Family factors:   Just as a child can inherit a parent’s brown hair, green eyes, and nearsightedness, a child can also inherit that parent’s anxiety. In addition, anxiety may be learned from family members and others who are noticeably stressed or anxious around a child.
  • Environmental factors:   A traumatic experience (such as a divorce, illness, or death in the family) may also trigger the onset of an anxiety disorder.

Types of anxiety disorder in children:

Like adults, children can also have other anxiety disorders, which range from separation anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) to panic attacks. Some signs of anxiety are easier to spot, but other anxiety disorders can be a little harder to detect.

Some of the different types of childhood anxiety include:

  • Separation Anxiety:  It involves an exaggerated fear of being separated from parents and caregivers. This type of anxiety is common in young children but usually begins to abate once a child is around 3 or 4.
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder:   As part of a diagnosis of a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), a child should have evidence of excessive fear and worry (which can appear as the symptoms above) for six months or more, and they should be triggered by more than one thing, such as being anxious about work, school, and friends.

Also, a child with a generalized anxiety disorder will have trouble controlling their feelings of worry and it will cause them distress and some kind of impairment.

  • Specific Phobias:     In addition to a generalized anxiety disorder, children can have more specific phobias.​ They become anxious and worried, but only about very specific triggers, such as a thunderstorm, spiders, being left alone, going to a swimming pool, etc.

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder:  Children with OCD may have either recurrent intrusive thoughts (obsessions) about certain things often along with repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions) that they perform.

  • Panic Attacks:   Although uncommon in children, panic attacks are another type of anxiety disorder that does become more common in later teen years.

  • School-based anxiety:    Some children become anxious about going to school, schoolwork, friendships, or bullying, especially if they’re changing school or moving up a level.
  • Social anxiety:   Social anxiety is not wanting to go out in public, see friends or take part in activities.

Selective Mutism: 

when a child can’t speak in certain settings but can speak fine in others. For example, a child may not be able to speak at school but can speak with no problem at home. It is called selective mutism because the child is only mute in select situations. It’s a rare childhood condition.