Child anxiety is on the rise. Many young children exhibit high levels of anxiety, including anxiety around separation issues, performance at school and elsewhere, social anxiety, school phobias and panic attacks. Statistics indicate that 10% of children and adolescents over the age of six have a diagnosable anxiety disorder.
When Is Child Anxiety a Problem?
- When high levels of anxiety prevent the child from performing common, everyday activities that most average children of a similar age can do.
- When high levels of anxiety are persistent, ongoing and have lasted more than a month.
- When high levels of anxiety upset and distress the child, and often his or her family.
Signs and Symptoms of a Child Anxiety Disorder
The behavioral signs and symptoms listed below may signal an anxiety disorder in a child or adolescent, or the propensity for developing one.
- Constant worry about everyday activities, such as what's going to happen next and that they won't be able to handle it.
- Tension and anxiety in a variety of situations.
- Shows a high need for a great deal of reassurance.
- Complains about physical concerns and problems such as headaches and stomachaches.
- Avoidance of stressful situations such as tests and exams or interactions with others.
- Clingy behavior in young children.
- Signs of perfectionism, for example, constant erasure of school work.
- Extremely slow to complete tasks in order to ensure they are done correctly.
- Highly dependent on a parent or caregiver and reluctant to attend school and other activities without a significant other.
- Avoidance of activities that require independence.
- Tantrums and tears or clinging when a caregiver or parent leaves.
- Avoidance, refusal or reluctance to participate in social activities that might result in social scrutiny. Anxious children are often highly sensitive to other people watching them. They feel that they are being critical of them and noticing their mistakes.
- Physical symptoms such as flushing or an extremely quiet or shaky voice during social situations.
What Kind of Child is More Likely to Exhibit Symptoms of Child Anxiety?
- Children with inhibited or introverted temperaments may be more prone to anxiety, although this is not always the case. Nevertheless, introverted children are more apt to internalize their distress rather than to externalize it or act it out.
- Family history is frequently a factor. Anxiety disorders run in families. Children who have a family history of anxiety, often going back several generations, are at increased risk for developing an anxiety disorder.
- Similarly, children with highly anxious parents may exhibit high levels of anxiety themselves. Highly anxious parents who continually worry and fret about their children and/or who are overly protective can foster high levels of anxiety in their children.
- Children, who are experiencing high levels of family stress and/or conflict may exhibit signs and symptoms of anxiety.
What Causes Child Anxiety Disorders?
Multiple factors interact and contribute to high levels of anxiety in a child or adolescent. The child, for example, may possess a genetic propensity for developing an anxiety disorder. Stressors in the child's environment, at home or at school, can trigger high levels of anxiety and increase the risk that the child will develop an anxiety disorder.
Are you worried about a child who exhibits symptoms of anxiety? How serious do you thnk the problem is? Observe the child's behavior and ask yourself the following questions:
- How frequently does the child exhibit symptoms of anxiety?
- On a scale of 1 to 10 how severe do you think the problem is? Is it hard to manage? How does it interfere with the child's life? How long do the symptoms of anxiety last? What effect do they have on the child and those around him or her?
- How long have these problems been of concern? When did you begin to notice them? How frequently do these symptoms occur?
- What factors or stressors do you think are contributing to anxiety in this child?
Early intervention can help reduce anxious feelings in children and prevent problems from escalating. Children who exhibit high levels of anxiety or who suffer from an anxiety disorder also need help to develop healthy coping strategies to ameliorate and reduce their feelings of anxiety. Dr. O. Connor’s services can help you to help an anxious child.
Contact Dr. O'Connor about child anxiety. She will respond to your question and offer recommendations for addressing your concerns about a child anxiety disorder.
Dr. O'Connor offers Psychological Assessments to help children who are showing high levels of anxiety. To find out how Dr. O'Connor tailors her assessments to meet the needs of the anxious child, click here.
You can also read our case studies about children who exhibit child anxiety disorders. Learn how a child with an anxiety disorder presents and what kind of strategies can help.