TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health issue in children, yet these disorders often are not addressed until the child becomes symptomatic to the point of not functioning either at home, socially, or at school.
Studies have shown nearly 10 percent of kindergarteners have anxiety that qualifies as an anxiety disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 25.1 percent of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 suffer from anxiety and 5.9 percent of adolescents in this age group have what is considered “severe” anxiety.
Caregivers can ponder two questions: “Is my child more shy or anxious than other children his or her age?,” and “Is my child more worried than other children his or her age?”
If a parent can answer yes to either question, it is possible the child does or will struggle with anxiety.
Anxiety is a disorder that is often overlooked, so caregivers need to recognize the age-appropriate symptoms of anxiety disorders.
Preschoolers may exhibit separation anxiety, which makes it difficult for primary caregivers to drop the child off at daycare or preschool without the child becoming inconsolable.
General symptoms of anxiety in children include: excessive anxiety and worry; inability to control fear or worry; fatigue; sleep disruption; poor concentration; irritability; restlessness; and muscle tension. At times, severe anxiety can be mistaken for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because the anxious child is often on the move to try and relieve anxiety symptoms, and anxious thoughts often reduce a child’s ability to focus in class.
Just because a child worries does not mean that he or she suffers from anxiety. Some worry is normal.
Most children, when asked, are able to report having several fears at any given age. Studies have shown that 90 percent of children between the ages of 2-14 have at least one specific fear. If your child’s fear is not interfering with his or her daily life (e.g., sleep, school performance, social activities) or your family’s life, then most likely you will not need to take your child to a therapist for help.
Here is a list of fears that are found to be very common for children at specific ages:
Infants and toddlers aged 0-2 years: loud noises, strangers, separation from parents, large objects.
Preschoolers aged 3-6 years: imaginary figures (e.g., ghosts, monsters, supernatural beings, the dark, noises, sleeping alone, scary movies).
Children and adolescents aged 7-16 years: more realistic fears (e.g., physical injury, health, school performance, death, thunderstorms, earthquakes, floods).
If your child has fears you think might be excessive or that cause him or her significant distress, speak with your child’s doctor or consult with a child therapist.
Often, just giving your child a few skills to manage worry can be a great relief.
Anxiety can be treated, and children who struggle with anxiety disorders can live happy and fulfilled lives. Early treatment is the key, and support from parents, teachers and other important adults in the child’s life can help create a safe environment for the child to overcome worry.
Jackie Hurt-Coppola, LMFT has been treating children since 2006, many of them with severe emotional disturbance. She treats children with trauma, anxiety, mood disorders, ADHD, developmental disorders and transitional problems. Jackie has recently relocated her office to Truckee and serves children as young as 3-years-old, as well as adolescents and teens. She also works with families and individual adults, whether on parenting issues or personal issues that may affect parenting. Contact her at Playheals@gmail.com or www.Playheals.net.