Every child experiences times in their life where they struggle with feelings of worry and fear. This is the normal reaction to life’s stresses because fear is the body’s way of warning you of danger or the need for caution in certain situations.

Anxiety in Children: Types of Anxiety Disorders and How to HelpThere are many things that under normal circumstances may make a child feel worried or anxious from time to time, like starting a new school or moving to a new house. However, when these feelings last a long time or become overwhelming, that intense feeling is called anxiety.

While anxiety affects everyone differently, when it becomes so severe that it gets in the way of school, home life, social life, or play and recreation, then it has become a problem that needs to be addressed.

Symptoms of anxiety in children

There are a variety of symptoms of anxiety that a parent or caregiver can look out for in their children. But because some children with anxiety can be quiet and easy to please, symptoms of anxiety could be overlooked. Being aware of what to look out for can help a person to be alert to signs of anxiety so that the child can get the help they need as soon as possible.

Behavioral signs of anxiety could include the child having difficulty concentrating, being tense or fidgety, not sleeping or waking up frequently from bad dreams, not eating properly, getting angry quickly, being irritable, and having out-of-control outbursts.

An anxious child may cry a lot and might be clingy, and they may express constant worry about certain things or have negative thoughts. They may miss school, act scared or nervous, or become upset in certain situations, and they may refuse to talk or participate with others. They may also complain of feeling physically unwell and of tummy aches.

There could also be physical symptoms that affect the body, such as getting shaky or jittery. They may feel short of breath or in extreme cases even hyperventilate in certain situations. They may feel like their mouth is dry or have “butterflies” in their stomach.

Their heart may race, their face may get hot, and their hands feel clammy. These are all normal reactions of the body’s fight or flight response being primed in the face of perceived danger. However, in the case of anxiety, this response can be overactive, reacting when there isn’t any real danger.

Anxiety in Children: Types of Anxiety Disorders and How to Help 1Types of anxiety disorders

While there may be many symptoms of anxiety that overlap, there are a variety of anxiety disorders that one might notice in children.

The first type is generalized anxiety disorder. This is a form of anxiety focused on regular things which may cause children to worry. However, the child experiences greater levels of anxiety and worries more frequently and for a longer time than other children would. Things that could cause generalized anxiety disorder include problems within the family, worry about their performance in school, or sports, and fears about fitting in with their peers.

Separation anxiety disorder is when children don’t outgrow the fear of being apart from their parents. It is normally between the ages of eighteen months and three years old. If older children are struggling with fears of being apart from their parents, it may manifest in different ways. These include taking longer than other children to settle down when dropped off at school, extreme homesickness, and feelings of extreme sadness over not being near their loved ones.

Social anxiety disorder is when a child is constantly worried about what other children may think or say. They may be afraid of finding themselves in an embarrassing situation, so they avoid anything that could gain them unwanted attention, such as group activities and social situations that could cause them stress.

Also known as social phobia, social anxiety is associated with an intense fear of social activities and situations where they would be required to perform in front of others. The child may fear meeting people, avoid social events, and have few friends outside of the family. It can cause a child to struggle at school both in terms of their academic performance as well as their ability to socialize, make and maintain friendships.

Selective mutism is an extreme form of social phobia, where children become so afraid that they will not talk in those environments where they are under stress.

Anxiety in Children: Types of Anxiety Disorders and How to Help 2Panic disorder is when a child experiences sudden anxiety attacks with physical symptoms, such as feeling jittery and shaky, heart racing, and shortness of breath. They may be visibly upset, hyperventilating, or crying, and they may experience chronic and long-lasting worry as a result. This is more common in teens than in younger children.

Kids struggling with panic disorder experience dread or intense fear over small things, or even for no reason at all. They will experience a strong physical reaction and do whatever they can to avoid situations where they may react in that way. If a child experiences two or more panic attacks and spends the next month or more worrying about having another one or losing control, they may have a panic disorder.

Finally, a child may struggle with specific phobias. These are where a child is disproportionately afraid of specific things. Being afraid of certain specific things is normal, but when one is dealing with a phobia, the fear is more intense, more extreme, and longer lasting.

Common phobias include fear of particular animals, fear of storms, fear of water, fear of heights, of blood and medical procedures, and a fear of the dark. When exposed to the thing they are afraid of the child may experience physical distress, sweating, shaking, increased heart rate, a choking sensation, and an upset stomach.

How to help your child

If anxiety is treated early, it can prevent future difficulties that may result from it. These include low self-esteem, loss of friendships, or a failure to reach their academic potential. First and foremost, it is important that you talk to your child about their worries and anxiety. By talking with your child, you may be able to help them face their fears.

Help your children to talk about their feelings. Listen to them, showing understanding, love, and acceptance. A caring relationship with you will help your child to build inner strengths. Encourage small positive steps forward while not letting your child give up or completely avoid what causes them to become anxious.

Anxiety in Children: Types of Anxiety Disorders and How to Help 3Sometimes anxieties may go away after a time when you reassure your child. However, if the symptoms are affecting their quality of life, it would be good to consider making an appointment with a mental health professional to get an evaluation. Be sure to seek professional help if the constant anxiety is not getting better or if it is getting worse, if self-help isn’t working, and if it is affecting their schoolwork, relationships, or family life.

A trained therapist will be able to help you to support your child while also helping your child to learn how to develop the skills necessary to cope with anxiety. Be patient. It takes time for therapy to work and for children to feel better.

Treatments available for children with anxiety

Counseling may help your child to understand the causes of their anxiety and help them to work through the situations that trigger it.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) will help your child to manage their anxiety by helping them change their thinking and behavior around situations that cause them to feel anxious. Through talk therapy, they will help the child to process their feelings and experiences.

CBT can help a child unlearn avoidance behaviors and learn more helpful patterns of thinking around the topic. Parents can be taught how best to respond when the child is anxious in order to help them face their fears, while children can learn coping skills to face their fears and worry less.

Exposure therapy aims to systematically help the child to face their fears. In exposure therapy, a child will see their fear or relive a moment that makes them anxious in a controlled and safe environment, such as the therapist’s office.

In this type of therapy, a child is given the child opportunity to practice facing their fears in an environment where they are given support and praise as they try. This allows them to become more familiar with situations that used to scare them and helps them gain confidence in what they’ve learned.

In some circumstances, anxiety medications may be prescribed by your mental health professional. Anxiety may feel crippling to a child, but with help and the right support, a child can learn to thrive again.

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Articles are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All opinions expressed by authors and quoted sources are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors, publishers or editorial boards of San Diego Christian Counseling. This website does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on the Site. Reliance on any information provided by this website is solely at your own risk.
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