As a child, the world is full of fears and challenges, real and imaginary, that adults cannot recollect from their own childhood. Most of these childhood fears and challenges are temporary and eventually outgrown, but studies show that one in eight children suffer from an anxiety disorder and anxiety has become one of the most common mental health conditions in children. At some point in life, children will experience some form of anxiety, however, when the symptoms become distressing and interfere with normal living then the anxiety can be considered and classified as an anxiety disorder. The mind and emotions of a child are continuously changing and developing at different rates, so it may not always be easy to distinguish normal fears and challenges from those that may require additional attention. That is why it is important to important not only to assess the severity of the symptoms that obstruct daily living, but also be aware of the developmental progress of each individual child. Assessing if the fears and behaviors are appropriate on a developmental level is crucial for each child. Many situations will cause children to display anxiety; however, if they continue beyond reasonable age norms, or are intense and distressing, then it could likely be the beginning stage of an anxiety disorder. These intense or distressing anxieties can eventually cause more serious distress, destroy a family system, and interfere with a child’s development or education.
Anxiety disorders that your child could be experiencing are:
Generalized anxiety disorder. With this common anxiety disorder, children worry excessively about many things, such as school, the health or safety of family members, or the future in general. They may always think of the worst that could happen. Children with generalized anxiety tend to be very hard on themselves and strive for perfection. Children with this disorder are self-conscious, self-doubting, and excessively concerned about meeting other people’s expectations. Along with the worry and dread, kids may have physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, or tiredness. With generalized anxiety, worries can feel like a burden, making life feel overwhelming or out of control.
Phobias. These are intense fears of specific things or situations that are not inherently dangerous, such as heights, dogs, or flying in an airplane. Phobias usually cause people to avoid the things they fear. These fears come and go rapidly up to the age of 10 and require treatment only if they are excessive and unreasonable, persist for a long time, or occur at an inappropriate age. Children will avoid situations or things that they fear, or endure them with anxious feelings, which can manifest as crying, tantrums, clinging, avoidance, headaches, and stomachaches. Unlike adults, they do not usually recognize that their fear is irrational.
Social anxiety disorder. Children with this disorder are painfully shy and fear exposure to anything unfamiliar. They cling to their parents and may be afraid of other children as well as adult strangers at an age when it is no longer normal. They may be afraid of reading aloud, starting a conversation, or attending a birthday party. This can significantly impair your child’s school performance and attendance, as well as his or her ability to socialize with peers and develop and maintain relationships.
Panic disorder. These episodes of anxiety can occur for no apparent reason. In a panic attack, a sudden feeling of overwhelming dread or impending doom is accompanied by intense physical sensations — sweating, heart palpitations, chest pain, trembling, breathlessness, dizziness and nausea. Repeated panic attacks and fear of them can lead to constant worry about future attacks and their implications, including thoughts of losing control, “going crazy,” or dying.
Separation anxiety. Fear of being away from home or one’s parents, normal in the very young, is called separation anxiety disorder when it persists in older children. It may develop spontaneously or under stress, such as a death in the family, and can also result from social phobia or panic attacks. Children threatened with separation may develop physical symptoms. Often they fear that during a separation either they or their parents will come to harm; in older children, this fear may involve specific fantasies of accidents, illness, and crime.
With the increasing number of children affected by anxiety it is important to look at the developmental and environment factors that is impacting the child. Diagnosing an anxiety disorder can be difficult because the prominent symptoms are also symptoms of many other conditions, such as, depression and attention deficit disorder. Before diagnosing an anxiety, it is important to look at the other factors in the child’s life that could be causing fear and distress. If diagnosed, exposure to treatments such as cognitive behavior therapy, play therapy, and family therapy can help children to recognize, express, and face their fears. Therapeutic treatment is also beneficial to help children model self-confidence and problem-solving techniques to minimize their anxious thoughts, emotions, and behavior.
If your child is experiencing intense fear and distress, contact Wasatch Family Therapy today.
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