Childhood Anxiety

Fear of the unknown is something we all face at some point in time. We try to overcome this fear or avoid it to lead a normal life. But when children feel a similar anxiety, then it becomes a different matter because they are too young to deal with the problem on their own. This is when they need your love and support to help them overcome their fear.

Recognizing Childhood Anxiety
It is not unusual for children to have certain fears that affect them. Things like the dark, animals or monsters hiding under the bed are all common sources of anxiety in children. As they grow older, these fears subside and parents no longer need to go through a nightly ritual of checking for things that go bump in the night.

But sometimes a fear may hamper a child’s normal behavior. She may be quite and seem to be tense most of the time. She may also need lot of reassurance from you and dislikes being alone. The fear may become acute that the normal day-to-day activities are affected. As a parent, you need to be alert about your child’s anxieties. If she is hard to please, remains quiet, and wants you to be present with her at all times, it is possible that there is a fear troubling her inside.

Who is Affected More by Anxiety?
Researchers have suggested that those children who are naturally shy and introverts are more prone to anxiety disorders. Usually children between the ages of 6 and 8 who display an unusual fear towards something, which affects their other activities like school, may have an anxiety disorder or may develop one at a later age.

It is estimated that one in every 10 children has some type of anxiety disorder. About half of those affected by anxiety have two different forms of anxiety or suffer from some other type mental or behavioral issues. There also appears to be some genetic link as children are more likely to develop a disorder is a parent or sibling also suffers from anxiety. Anxiety manifests more often in girls than in boys, though both sexes are affected.

Anxiety Symptoms and Types
The term anxiety is actually rather broad and includes a host of various disorders, all of which involve different symptoms of anxiety.

General Anxiety – Children with general anxiety usually become worried about particular events or activities, such as school and punctuality. However, the fear may not be limited to things that directly affect the child but may also extend to other events, like flooding or tremors. To be diagnosed with this form of anxiety, symptoms must be present for at least 6 months. Typical symptoms include sleep problems (i.e. can fall or stay asleep); troubles with concentration; tiring easily; feeling restless, nervous or "on edge"; and irritability. This form of anxiety can significantly impact on your child, making it difficult for her to function on a daily basis as well as cause her a lot of distress.

Phobias – While phobias are a common child anxiety and normal to some degree, if they begin to interfere with your child’s life, it may be a sign that their fear is getting the better of them. Phobias can result in the fear of particular things or occurrences, such as a fear of cats, darkness, or solitude. Although you may be tempted to say that their fear is simply a phase, if you find that your child’s phobia is affecting their life, it may be time to make an appointment with a doctor. If left undiagnosed or untreated, your child’s life may become too restricted, as he will continue to try to avoid his phobia fear as an adult.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – In this case, a child is usually trapped in a pattern of thought or behavior that she may recognize but can’t get out of. For instance, having an need to repeatedly wash her hands, count or say the same thing again and again. This disorder has been found to have genetic links. In parents with OCD, children may be at a risk to have the disorder though the symptoms may be different. It is estimated that about 2% of adolescent kids may have OCD.

Panic Disorder – This disorder causes a child to suddenly grow very fearful without any apparent reason. She may start perspiring, her heartbeat increases, she may feel nauseated or feel that her very life is in danger. A child facing this type of trauma is extremely fearful of these anxiety attacks and may try to avoid any situation that could cause her to panic. She may also dislike going to school or being away from her parents for a long time.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – Many times children are in the midst of a traumatic event, like a fire, murder, physical assault, or a bombing. This experience can be so disturbing that later he may relive the memories again and again. This can hamper his sleep, thinking and may even lead to amnesia. The desire to avoid situations similar to the traumatic event can interfere with daily life while the need to block the events out of the mind can cause your child to not talk about it or forget parts of what happened.

Separation Anxiety - Many children go through a period of separation anxiety. While a normal developmental phase, for some children this anxiety can become a real problem. Those affect by separation anxiety often are fearful that harm will come to their parents if they are separated. Symptoms of this child anxiety disorder can manifest in sleeping difficulties, refusal to go to school or allowing parents to go anywhere unless accompanied by the child. This disorder is sometimes also accompanied by palpitation, dizziness and nausea.

Social Anxiety – Like many adults, children can also suffer from a social anxiety disorder. Children affected by social anxiety may have difficulty speaking to people, sing or perform in public, and may even dislike talking with strangers. Often, this anxiety is fueled by a fear of being scrutinized by others or embarrassed or humiliated by their behavior. As a result, certain social situations are avoided. Symptoms of this disorder include sudden shyness, being extremely quiet and staying close to familiar people when in a crowd. They may also lag behind other classmates in school.

Causes of Anxiety
Different analysts have different views towards anxiety disorders. Some believe that it is a genetic trait that may pass from generation to generation though the symptoms may be pronounced only in some individuals. Other psychoanalysts think that anxiety disorders are actually caused by small bits of stress, mental pressure and unknown fear that are suppressed; the overall impact of all these elements is seen in the form of an anxiety. Still others believe that there is a chemical imbalance in the brains of people dealing with anxiety.

With children, the major concern is an anxiety could lead to another issue, such as depression, loneliness, or a dislike for school and studies.

Many times, children who have anxiety disorders are also fearful of a bad outcome and being ridiculed if they disclose their fear to everyone. Therefore parents need to be aware of the signs and seek help so that the anxiety won’t affect the child as an adult. Different kinds of anxiety treatment are available and may be used on their own or in combination with other treatments. Because each case is different, there is no one particular anxiety cure.

In some cases, a child may be referred to a psychiatrist who will look to solve the problem through talk therapy, although anxiety medications may be prescribed. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is another popular option for those needing some anxiety relief. With this type of therapy, the focus is changing the way the child thinks about her fear. The child is taught how to turn those negative, anxiety-inducing thoughts into positive ones, thereby avoiding anxiety or an anxiety attack. CBT is one of the most commonly used treatments for anxiety.

Two other forms of treatment sometimes recommended alongside CBT are hypnosis and support groups. While the effectiveness of hypnosis is sometimes questioned, a trained hypnotist may be able to help a child deal with their fear. Attending a support group can be helpful, not just for the child, but also for parents and siblings that are also affected by a child’s anxiety disorder. Having the opportunity to talk with other people dealing with the same situation can help everyone realize that they are not alone and hear success stories of how others overcame their difficulties.

For those who like the idea of "facing their fears," graded exposure may be useful. With this form of treatment, a child is encouraged to do the thing that scares them for short durations that increase gradually. For instance, a child that is extremely scared of the dark may be left in a dark room for 5 seconds, then 10 seconds, and so on.

Finally, there are a number of medications available to curb anxiety, most of which are also anti-depressants. These drugs can include benzodiazapines, the new SSRIs, natural herbs or beta-blockers. However, giving your child such powerful medications may cause you to have some anxiety yourself, so make sure you thoroughly discuss the situation with your child’s physician first

What Parents Need to Do
If you feel your child is showing signs of anxiety, the most important thing is to be very caring and supportive.

  • You should speak to your child openly and constantly
  • Do not neglect your child’s fears or scold him for speaking about them to you
  • Do not make rules for your child to follow while in an anxious state. Instead try to build her confidence
  • Let your child develop his own positive strategies to overcome his anxiety
  • Make the home environment friendly
  • Talk to your child’s teacher if necessary and let them know about your child’s fears
  • Encourage socializing with same aged kids
  • Maintain home discipline
  • Take an interest in your child’s likes and hobbies
  • Treat siblings as individuals and do not compare
  • Share stories of when you yourself overcame a problem
  • Praise your childs efforts