All children experience anxiety. Anxiety in children is expected and normal at specific times in development. For example, from approximately age eight months through the preschool years, healthy youngsters may show intense distress (anxiety) at times of separation from their parents or other persons with whom they are close. Young children may have short-lived fears, (such as fear of the dark, storms, animals, or strangers). Anxious children are often overly tense or uptight. Some may seek a lot of reassurance, and their worries may interfere with activities.
Parents should not discount a child’s fears. Because anxious children may also be quiet, compliant and eager to please, their difficulties may be missed. Parents should be alert to the signs of severe anxiety so they can intervene early to prevent complications. There are different types of anxiety in children.
Symptoms of separation anxiety include:
- constant thoughts and intense fears about the safety of parents and caretakers
- refusing to go to school
- frequent stomachaches and other physical complaints
- extreme worries about sleeping away from home
- being overly clingy
- panic or tantrums at times of separation from parents
- trouble sleeping or nightmares
Symptoms of phobia include:
- extreme fear about a specific thing or situation (ex. dogs, insects, or needles)
- the fears cause significant distress and interfere with usual activities
Symptoms of social anxiety include:
- fears of meeting or talking to people
- avoidance of social situations
- few friends outside the family
Other symptoms of anxious children include:
- many worries about things before they happen
- constant worries or concerns about family, school, friends, or activities
- repetitive, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or actions (compulsions)
- fears of embarrassment or making mistakes
- low self esteem and lack of self-confidence
Severe anxiety problems in children can be treated. Early treatment can prevent future difficulties, such as loss of friendships, failure to reach social and academic potential, and feelings of low self-esteem. Treatments may include a combination of the following: individual psychotherapy, family therapy, medications, behavioral treatments, and consultation to the school.
If anxieties become severe and begin to interfere with the child’s usual activities, (for example separating from parents, attending school and making friends) parents should consider seeking an evaluation from a qualified mental health professional or a child and adolescent psychiatrist.