Anxiety in Children and Adolescents

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All children experience anxiety at some point or another. It is expected and normal during development. For example, young children may experience distress during times of separation from their parents or others that are close to them. Young children may have some fears, such as of the dark, storms, animals or strangers. Anxious children may be too tense or uptight. Others may need a lot of reassurance. With some children, their worries may interfere with daily activities.

Parents should not overlook their child’s anxiety. Anxious children may be quiet, compliant and eager to please, so their needs may be missed. Parents should recognize the signs of severe anxiety so they can prevent complications early.

What are the different types of anxiety in children?

Separation anxiety

Symptoms include:

  • Being overly clingy
  • Extreme worries about being away from home
  • Frequent stomachaches and ailments
  • Obsessive thoughts and fears about the safety of parents and caretakers
  • Panic or tantrums during separation from parents
  • Refusal to go to school
  • Trouble sleeping or nightmares

Phobias

Symptoms include:

  • Extreme fear about a specific thing or situation (ex. dogs or darkness)
  • Fears which cause significant distress and interfere with daily activities

Social anxiety

Symptoms include:

  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Fears of new people
  • Few friends outside the family

Other symptoms include:

  • Constant worries about family, school, friends or social activities
  • Fear of embarrassment or mistakes
  • Irrational worries about things before they happen
  • Low self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Obsessions or compulsion

How are anxious children treated?

Anxiety problems in children can be treated. Early intervention can prevent future problems, such as loss of friendships, failure to reach potentials and feelings of low self-esteem. Treatments may include a combination of individual psychotherapy, family therapy, medications, behavioral treatments and consultation with school. If anxieties are so severe that they interfere with the child’s usual activities, parents should get an evaluation from a child/adolescent psychiatrist.

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