Childhood Anxiety

All children and adolescents experience anxiety. As much as it is common to have short-lived fears, (such as fear of the dark, storms, animals, or strangers), it is also common for children to have anxiety disorders. Childhood anxiety is often missed because anxious children tend to be well behaved and eager to please. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common emotional problems in children and are more common than ADHD or childhood depression. Symptoms may include restlessness, irritability, fatigue and sleeping difficulties, muscle tension, and trouble concentrating, excessive reassurance seeking or withdrawal.
There are a number of anxiety disorders that affect children and adolescents. Common types of anxiety in childhood include:
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) – excessive and uncontrollable worries over various things such as: school performance, health, peer relationship, etc. Children with GAD often show perfectionistic tendencies, and may seek constant approval or reassurance from others.
  • Social Phobia – An extreme fear of social and performance situations. Common fears include performing in front of others, unstructured peer activities, and initiating peer relationships.
  • Phobias – irrational, excessive fear of a specific object, such as an animal, or a situation, such as water or swimming.
  • School refusal – anxiety about or refusal to go to school on a regular basis.
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder – an extreme fear of being away from caregivers, parents or from home.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – a pattern of intrusive repetitive anxiety inducing thoughts (obsessions) accompanied by compensatory behaviors (compulsions) such as repeated hand washing, counting, or arranging and rearranging objects.
  • Panic Attacks – sudden, discrete episodes of intense fear and/or discomfort in certain situation or places, accompanied by somatic symptoms including heart palpitations, sweating, trembling or shaking, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, hot or cold flashes, etc.
If left untreated, anxiety disorders increase the risk of academic and social difficulties, poor self esteem, and substance abuse. CBT is a proven approach to treat childhood anxiety. A variety of strategies are utilized to help children overcome their anxieties. Cognitive restructuring of the feared event, is a major intervention in cognitive therapy. The child learns to identify and modify his/her negative thinking and view their fears as less threatening. They learn to solve problems more effectively without avoiding situations or events. Additionally, children are trained in stress management techniques such as relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing and imagery. As their ability to cope with stress gets better and their self-confidence improves, children learn to face their fears more actively and regularly. Parent training and coaching is an integral part of treatment of childhood anxiety, particularly in young ages. Parents are viewed as agents to help utilize treatment interventions at home.