The Anxious Child

All children experience anxiety.   Anxiety in children is expected and normal at specific times in development.  For example, from approximately eight months of age through the preschool years, healthy youngsters may show intense distress (anxiety) at times of separation from their parents or other persons with whom they are close.  Young children may have short-lived fears, (such as fear of the dark, storms, animals, or strangers).  If anxieties become severe and begin to interfere with the daily activities of childhood (such as separating from parents, attending school and making friends), parents should consider seeking the evaluation and advice of a child psychologist.

One type of anxiety that may need treatment is called separation anxiety. This includes:

  • constant thoughts and fears about safety of self and parents
  • refusing to go to school
  • frequent stomachaches and other physical complaints
  • extreme worries about sleeping away from home
  • overly clingy
  • panic or tantrums at times of separation from parents
  • trouble sleeping or nightmares

Another type of anxiety (phobia) is when a child is afraid of specific things such as dogs, insects, or needles and these fears cause significant distress (i.e., more than what would be expected for a child of the same age).

Some anxious children are afraid to meet or talk to new people.  Children with this difficulty may have few friends outside the family.

Other children with severe anxiety may have:

  • many worries about things before they happen
  • constant worries or concern about school performance, friends, or sports
  • repetitive thoughts or actions (obsessions)
  • fears of embarrassment or making mistakes
  • low self-esteem

Anxious children are often overly tense or uptight.   Some may seek a lot of reassurance, and their worries may interfere with activities. Because anxious children may also be quiet, compliant and eager to please, their difficulties may be missed. Parents should be alert to the signs of anxiety so they can intervene early to prevent complications.  It is important not to discount a child’s fears.

If you are concerned that your child has difficulty with anxiety you should consult a child psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.  Severe anxiety problems in children can be treated.  Early treatment can prevent future difficulties, such as loss of friendships, failure to reach social and academic potential, and feelings of low self-esteem.  Treatments may include one or a combination of the following: individual psychotherapy, family therapy, behavioral treatments, medications, and consultation with the school.

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