Anxiety disorders in children
Nine-year-old Katya is very shy. She often misses school, and before leaving the house in the morning complains of abdominal pain. On the eve of the examinations she was very upset. Every time her father goes on a business trip, Katya panics. She’s afraid something will happen to her father and he won’t come home.
Doctors found Katya has an anxiety disorder. Anxiety in children is abnormal when it reaches a level like Katya’s. When a child experiences anxiety, parents should help him cope with this problem.
Anxiety: emotion or mental disorder?
Anxiety is an emotion, though unpleasant for the person who experiences it. When a child is anxious before an exam or a performance on stage, it is normal. In fact, anxiety can be a healthy and positive emotion, helping a person better prepare for and cope with various situations.
From time to time, each of us experiences anxiety. We have different mechanisms to deal with it: some like to listen to music, others like to sing. Children in a moment of anxiety can talk to themselves, remember the encouraging words of their parents or just breathe deeply to relieve tension.
But anxiety can also be a problem, such as when a child refuses to let go of his mother’s hand and go to class or play with friends on the street. Anxiety disorders can change a child’s worldview, instill irrational fears and turn small troubles into serious problems.
A minor alarm is not dangerous. But if it interferes with the child’s life and your life, then it is a disorder that needs to be treated. Fortunately, anxiety is treatable. But, first of all, it is necessary to understand what types of anxiety disorders can occur in children.
Anxiety disorders in children
According to statistics, one in eight children has problems with anxiety. When we are unable to deal with a child’s ordinary anxiety, it develops into a disorder that can remain with him in adolescence and even adulthood. 25 % of children aged 13 to 18 years have anxiety disorders, and 5.9 % – quite serious. Of course, parents are willing to do everything possible to help their overly anxious child. First of all, it is necessary to determine the disorder that the child suffers from. Let us consider them in more detail.
1. Generalized anxiety disorder
If a child often worries about little things, he probably has a generalized anxiety disorder. Anxiety prevents the child from leading a normal happy life, like his peers. For many people, this disorder begins in childhood or adolescence. In addition, girls suffer from it more often than boys.
2. Panic attack
Imagine the situation: your daughter has a performance. You’ve been waiting for this for months. As soon as she enters the stage, she immediately freezes, her heart begins to beat faster, and it becomes difficult to breathe. Your worst fear came true: she had a panic attack.
A panic attack is a sudden feeling of intense fear. Panic attacks have physical manifestations: rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and even loss of consciousness. Children suffering from this disorder usually live with the fear that they will constantly have attacks.
3. Separation alarm
Separation anxiety is a condition experienced by a child who is separated from his or her parents or the people to whom he or she is attached.
Young children have an attachment to their parents. Therefore, it is quite normal for children to worry a little when their parents are not around. Separation anxiety is most common in children between the ages of 8 and 14 months. But if such symptoms occur in children older than 5 years (for example, they worry when their parents go to work), it indicates a mental disorder.
In such cases, the child has an irrational fear that something bad can happen to him or her parents if they are not around. Therefore, the child tends to be constantly with his parents.
Typically, anxiety disorder occurs as a result of a traumatic event. It often occurs in children who are overprotected by their parents.
4. Social phobia
If a child experiences anxiety before going to a classmate’s birthday Party or party, if he avoids companies, he may have a social phobia. In this case, the child has a primary fear of making a mistake and getting into an awkward position.
Sometimes the fear of the child is amplified because of underdeveloped social skills. But most often the fear itself leads to the fact that the child makes more mistakes and even more worried. In some cases, a strong social phobia can lead to panic attacks.
5. Selective mutism
Parents are annoyed when a child, who is usually talkative, suddenly does not say a word in the presence of strangers. Parents think that the child does it on purpose and simply shames them.
Perhaps it is not. Perhaps the child suffers from a disorder called ” selective dumbness.”
Selective dumbness is a condition where a child is silent in certain situations. Most often, the child does not communicate in the presence of strangers or during mass events. Usually, children with anxiety disorders or social phobia suffer from selective dumbness.
6. Electoral phobias
Children are afraid of the dark. Some are afraid of clowns, spiders, enclosed spaces etc. In most cases, these fears are as the child gets older. In some cases, the fears remain and develop into phobias or irrational fears.
Election phobia is quite a common phenomenon. They can prevent the child from enjoying a healthy life. Phobias can be different for different children: for example, some are afraid of spiders, others-height, etc.
A phobia can develop in a child due to a genetic predisposition or traumatic situation. Environmental factors, the age of the child and repeated situations with him can also lead to phobias.
7. Posttraumatic stress disorder
Stress is a natural response to traumatic events. When a child experiences a frightening or traumatic situation, he has a fear that this event will happen again. Most people with a little outside help and support overcome this fear and begin to live a normal life. However, some children experience the same emotions over and over again. They develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Children with PTSD relive the traumatic experience over and over again in their thoughts and experience panic attacks, thinking it will happen time after time.
8. Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Wash your hands frequently. Check several times to see if the door is closed. Several times a day to clean the room and rearrange the furniture. These are common actions for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD was once considered a type of anxiety disorder, but is now considered a separate disorder.
Children with OCD think too much about something, and it makes them act in a certain way. Their behavior is caused by irrational thoughts and fears. Frightening thoughts create anxiety, and children believe that it will pass if they perform certain actions.
Anxiety disorders are similar and usually intertwined with each other. But why do children experience such traumatic experiences?