Anxiety disorders in children and teens

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Like adults children and teens can also suffer from anxiety disorders. Events such as starting school, moving, or the loss of a parent can trigger the onset of an anxiety disorder. Though any of the recognized anxiety disorders can affect a child, some disorders are more common in childhood while there are others which are specific to stages of development.

Contents

Why should I be aware of this?

Research has shown that if left untreated, children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, to have less developed social skills, and are likely to be more vulnerable to substance abuse.

According to research reports a person's basic temperament is likely to play a role in some childhood and adolescent anxiety disorders. It is possible that being very shy and restrained in unfamiliar situations is indicative that the child or adolescent is at risk of developing an anxiety disorder. High levels of anxiety in a child aged 6 to 8 may be a warning sign that the child may develop anxiety disorder later. This is because normally at this age children get rid of their childhood fears and begin to get more focused on school performance and social relationships.

How does this affect me?

Though anxiety disorder is common among children and teens it's also difficult to diagnose especially among children. It is important to recognize the symptoms and get our children treated at the earliest. Although children experience the same symptoms as adults, they display and react to these symptoms differently. This can lead to difficulties in diagnosis, and it may be difficult to determine if a child's behavior is "just a phase" or whether it constitutes a disorder.

With right treatment at the right time, this disorder can easily be cured.

All about anxiety disorders in children and teens

Anxiety disorder can affect young people to such an extent that they are too afraid, worried, or uneasy to function normally. It can be long-lasting and interfere greatly with a child's life. If the symptoms are neglected they can lead to:

  • missed school days or an inability to finish school;
  • impaired relations with peers;

low self-esteem;

  • alcohol or other drug use;
  • problems adjusting to work situations;
  • and anxiety disorder in adulthood.

Common symptoms

  • Hesitation and discomfort in the spotlight
  • Refusal to initiate conversations, perform in front of others, or invite friends to get together.
  • They refuse to even telephone others for homework or other information.
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Often mumbling or speaking softly
  • Minimal interaction and conversation with peers
  • Appearing isolated even when in groups
  • Always concerned about being humiliated or embarassed
  • Difficulty with public speaking, reading aloud, or being called on in class

Types of anxiety disorders:

The following are the different types of anxiety disorders:

Generalized anxiety disorder

This type of disorder makes children and adolescents experience extreme, unrealistic worry that does not seem to be related to any recent event. It makes them very self-conscious, feel tense, and complain about stomachaches or other discomforts that don't appear to have any physical basis.

Phobias

Phobia creates an unrealistic and excessive fear of some situation or object, such as animals, storms, water, heights, or situations, such as being in an enclosed space. Children and adolescents with social phobias are terrified of being criticized or judged harshly by others.

Panic disorder

Often children go through panic attacks without apparent cause. These are accompanied by periods of intense fear, pounding heartbeat, sweating, dizziness, nausea, or a feeling of imminent death. Children dread such attacks so much they don’t want to be separated from their parents or want to go to school.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder

In this disorder the child is trapped in a pattern of repetitive thoughts and behaviors which are very difficult to stop even if the children believe that they are senseless. Repeated hand washing, counting, or arranging and rearranging objects are some such compulsive behavior.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

This can develop after a very stressful event, such physical or sexual abuse, being a victim of or witnessing violence, or being caught in a disaster, such as a bombing or hurricane. Strong memories of such events remain and children keep re-visiting them.

What can I do?

If parents or other caregivers notice repeated symptoms of an anxiety disorder in a child or adolescent, they should:

  • Consult the child’s doctor and with his help determine whether the symptoms are caused by an anxiety disorder or by some other condition. Then, if needed, the doctor can refer the family to a mental health professional.
  • Look for a trained mental health professional who has experience working with children and adolescents;
  • Consult specialists who use cognitive-behavioral or behavior therapy

Tips for teachers

  • Develop procedures which will encourage socially anxious students to get more involved.
  • Explain to these students beforehand that you want to help them feel more comfortable in class, not more embarrassed.
  • If necessary rehearse them earlier to make sure they know the answers.
  • Make them believe that speaking up more often will make things easier for them.
  • Incorporate oral presentations into your curriculum to help all your students develop confidence in public speaking.

References:

  • Anxiety Disorders in Children
  • Childhood and Adolescent Anxiety Disorders
  • Anxiety Disorders