By Assia Mortensen
One in eight American children suffer from clinical anxiety according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, (ADAA). Clinical anxiety in young children differs from normal worries and anxiety, which are temporary, according to the ADAA. For example, a five-year-old may fear a scary movie, but can be comforted. Children with anxiety will continue to worry regardless of reassurance from parents. Anxiety symptoms can interfere with day-to-day functioning and cause the child considerable distress, the Stanford School of Medicine asserts.
Children with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD, tend to worry endlessly about family, school, social interactions and other situations. They often exhibit tendencies toward perfectionism, order, and are in need of nearly constant reassurance.
Panic disorder is often diagnosed when a child has suffered two or more panic attacks. Panic attacks often include feelings of terror, as well as sweating and hyperventilation.
Phobias, on the other hand, are extreme irrational fears of a situation or object. Common phobias revolve around animals, medical procedures, storms, heights and blood, according to the ADAA. Exposure to a phobic situation may induce a panic attack.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by intense obsessions, which are persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that are unwanted, according to the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry or AACAP. A child with OCD may have obsessions combined with compulsions, which can include repetitive and ritualistic behaviors such as hand washing, counting, hoarding or checking. The types and forms of anxiety a child exhibits may vary over time.
Anxiety, left untreated, can affect school performance as well as social and family interactions. Children suffering from anxiety disorders may exhibit low self-esteem and become frustrated easily. They may indicate that they feel afraid, “crazy” or “out of control.” Children with anxiety have a greater chance of suffering from concurrent mental health issues, including depression and ADHD, the International OCD Foundation further reports.
Researchers point to the neurotransmitter serotonin as a possible key to understanding anxiety, as medications that increase serotonin in the brain can lessen anxiety for some, according to the Stanford School of Medicine. Anxiety disorders also appear to have a genetic component; Children with parents who suffer from these disorders have a greater chance of also developing them, Stanford reports.
When seeking treatment for a child, it is advisable to find a psychiatrist or psychologist who has experience treating anxiety in children. According to the AACAP, the bulk of kids can be treated with psychotherapy, especially with cognitive-behavioral techniques.
In some cases, medications may be used as well. For example, serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, also called SSRI’s can be helpful. A psychiatrist may use a combination of therapeutic methods to treat a child. Changes in diet and vitamin and mineral supplementation may be advised.
For parents, understanding the disorder and having open family communication is advantageous during treatment. Children with anxiety will need a great deal of support, compassion, encouragement, and with treatment, their symptoms will likely improve.
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Childhood Anxiety Disorders; Anxiety Disorders Association of America; Accessed July 20, 2012
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Children and Adolescents; American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psych; Accessed July 20, 2012
OCD in Children and Teens; International OCD Foundation; Accessed July 20, 2012
Understanding OCD; Stanford School of Medicine; Accessed July 20, 2012
The Child And Adolescent Psychiatrist; AACAD; Accessed July 20, 2012