In Physical & Mental Health

Understanding Childhood Anxiety Disorders

anxiety disorders

Children can exhibit signs of anxiety disorders as young as age one. A fear of strangers and aversion to separation from caregivers usually spur the initial feelings of anxiety. During normal growth and development, most kids grow out of these fears. Some children, however, never stop feeling anxious about the smallest changes. Others begin to feel anxious later on in childhood as responsibilities in school and at home increase. Internal and external pressures can heighten the anxious response and worsen the condition considerably. Eventually, children need outside help to learn how to cope with anxiety and respond to pressure in a healthy manner. Learn what is an anxiety disorder and symptoms of anxiety in teens to help your kid overcome acute anxiety disorder.

Signs Of An Anxiety Disorder

The signs of an anxiety disorder vary from child to child and often change for each age group. Many toddlers exhibit an anxious response through crying jags and outright meltdowns. These outbursts may seemingly appear out of nowhere, much to the confusion of the parents. If your toddler frequently cries, pulls on your pant leg or throws a fit during transitional periods, you may need to address his or her underlying feelings of anxiety.

Older children may respond to anxiety by acting out or withdrawing. Your child may simply want to be left alone or skip normal activities if anxious or nervous feelings are running rampant. Since kids do not know how to naturally cope with anxiety, these feelings could last a lot longer than normal.

Teens and anxiety often go hand in hand due to their mounting social and professional pressures. Teens have even more trouble dealing with anxiety since social pressures encourage them to hide their feelings. Your teen could turn toward drugs and alcohol or other disruptive behaviors in order to cope with anxiety without mentioning the symptoms to you.

By remaining watchful, you can notice a change in your child whenever anxiety levels spike. Pay close attention to how your children respond to changes and stressful events to learn their cues for later use. You can learn what causes anxiety disorders and watch for the cues to determine if an unspoken problem is bugging your child.


Anxiety disorder infographic

Courtesy of: Tower of Power

Common Causes of Anxiety

The causes of anxiety disorders also vary according to the age and developmental stage of your child. Toddlers usually experience anxiety due to changes in their normal routine. If your work hours or evening activities change schedule, your toddler might feel out of sorts, which turns into full blown anxiety as the day goes on.

Older children may feel anxious about those same changes or subtler issues going on in the household. Marital problems, no matter how well hidden, often cause kids to pick up on the stress cues and develop high anxiety levels. Children may not be able to articulate the reason behind their emotions, just that they feel a certain way. Adolescents also often develop anxiety from school related issues, like difficult homework assignments, projects and tests, and peer related issues, including bullying and making friends.

Teens have another layer of problems to worry about due to their quickly maturing bodies and minds. Teenage girls, in particular, have a lot of changes to cope with when it comes to their bodies. Teens may not know how to deal with feelings produced by excess hormones during puberty. In addition, these feelings could result in difficulties with the opposite gender and changing dynamics within their normal friend group. Teens also have to worry about carving out a future for themselves by performing well in school, looking into college prospects and figuring out a career path. Since this age group often keeps to itself, anxiety disorders in teens can be difficult to spot.

Identifying the Unique Cause

Since each child is quite different, you’ll need to have a detailed discussion about the cause of behavioral problems related to anxiety each time the feelings occur. This is particularly important if your child asks you, “Do I have an anxiety disorder,” point blank. Your child may be able to share some insight into why the anxiety levels spiked during that time. After a single reason comes up, keep discussing related matters to dig deep into the heart of the problem. Kids and teens often have trouble pinpointing the true cause of their distress. With your help, your child can define anxiety disorder and figure out the true cause.

Types Of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders affecting toddlers, kids and teens include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Social Anxiety
  • Specific Phobias
  • Panic Attacks

If the signs of anxiety disorder affect your child for more than a few days at a time, you may need to seek outside help from a medical professional. Your child’s general practitioner can perform a quick evaluation to determine if the problem needs further discussion. If the doctor feels it is necessary, your child may be referred to a mental health professional for a diagnosis. Mental health professionals are experts in figuring out if children have a disorder or just lack coping skills needed to handle stressful events.

Complications from Untreated Anxiety

Untreated anxiety disorders and a lack of coping skills both run the risk of wearing your child down over time. Children need help dealing with life’s stresses to develop into successful, well-adjusted adults. If anxiety problems follow your child into adulthood, difficulties in college and work could cause a total mental breakdown.

Your child could even entertain thoughts of suicide from mounting depression caused by feeling anxious all of the time. Many kids find it difficult to have a positive outlook on life while weighed down by anxious, nervous thoughts. With an anxiety disorder definition and treatment, these worries cloud your child’s view of the world for the worse.

Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

You can start with appointments with a therapist to help your child learn coping skills that guard against anxiety. Many kids need to learn that their fears and worries will not come to fruition most of the time. Much of that nervous energy is wasted on worries about conversations and events that never occur. During anxiety disorder treatment, therapists teach your child to role-play through difficult problems to tackle stressful situations head-on. These practice sessions help kids understand that the actual events never fully match up to their perceptions, for better or for worse.

Many kids abandon their worries at that point since they discover the futility of trying to predict life’s outcomes. However, if your child has a diagnosed anxiety disorder, you may need to entertain the idea of medication. Some kids need medication to get over the initial hump while going through therapy to reduce anxiety. Others need to stay on the medication for months or years to reduce worries that quickly blow out of control.

Helping Your Child Cope

Although you won’t likely attend the therapy appointments with your child, offer to be there to talk anytime. Your child must feel comfortable approaching you for advice and support any time of the day and night. Take note of when your child feels the most anxious and plan calming activities during that time. Read a book, do some artwork, watch a movie, cook a meal or listen to music together to help control feelings of anxiety.

Talk through the stressful events at the end of each day to help your child process and file away the information without dwelling on it. As you work with your child, you should notice a change in their demeanor and outlook. Many kids noticeably relax after talking through their problems with a trusted advisor or their parents. If you’re not the first choice when it comes to working through the issues, just rest assured that your kid is developing adequate coping skills by talking it out.

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