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Anxiety in Children

By Sasha de Beausset Aparicio, MSc

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Anxiety in Children
Anxiety in Children

What is Anxiety in Children?

Anxiety disorders in children are most of the times regarded as a normal part of growth, mostly because the majority goes through some phases. However, if the phase is a singular event, the child doesn’t suffer from anxiety.

When shyness, nervousness, and irrational fear are also involved, the child may in fact suffer from a type of anxiety and often starts to avoid activities and places. Research showed that it affects one in eight kids. Unfortunately, anxiety also co-occurs with other disorders such as eating disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and depression.
According to a study conducted by National Institute of Mental Health from the United States, there is a lifetime prevalence of approximately 25.1% of a person between thirteen and eighteen to develop a type of anxiety. This is why it is important that parents carefully supervise their children in case they notice a strange behavior and act immediately if so.


There are various causes behind this condition in children. From those who are born with anxious temperaments to those who have gone through a series of stressful events, anxiety appears to be triggered by either a series of fears that gradually worsen with age or a traumatic event of high proportions in the child’s life such as parental separation.

For instance, starting school, moving to a new home, the death of a grandparent, the birth of a sibling, acceptance from a peer group, and mastering a task which further leads to expectations which can be too stressful are all possible causes.

Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, anxiety is overlooked in children and a lot of people believe it’s not that important and it will vanish on its own. However, it does not, unless the child possesses an increased mental stress as well as ability to self-motivate; thus, it is usually taken into adulthood where it can manifest more vividly and with lower chances of being cured.

Signs & Symptoms

The onset of this disease generally happens throughout puberty when self-consciousness and additional stressors are involved. However, in some cases, it may appear earlier on. There are four common types of anxiety found in children. These are generalized anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, and separation anxiety, each with different causes and sometimes various symptoms.

When the condition is related to separation, children experience the fear of being left by their parents, caretaker, or the person they’re most attached to and may end up developing a persistent worrying which will manifest through their refusal to go to school, throwing things around the house, and panic when the idea of being alone arises.

On the other hand, those suffering from phobias will more likely become irrational due to some fears linked to a certain object of situation. These result in the need to escape, sweating, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, dizziness, or feelings of an imminent danger related to the reason of their phobia.

Those with generalized anxiety possess a fear linked to almost all aspects of their lives and anticipate disaster in everything they do. In these situations, the stress and tension is debilitating and chronic and often affects multiple features of the child’s life. Additionally, other things like concentration difficulties, edginess, irritability, stomach aches, muscle tensions, sleep difficulties, stomach aches, and fatigue may be experienced.

Unfortunately, no matter the type of condition the child has, in almost all situations, he can’t seem to manage the overwhelming of stressful events and although he might be aware of his condition, there are low chances of being cured without proper medical intervention and care.

As it was previously mentioned, this condition may develop in children either due to some genetic disposition towards psychological disorders or due to a traumatic event occurred in the child’s life. Varying on the type of anxiety, the manifestation of the condition is different and expressed through a typical behavior. For example, a child that suffers from panic attacks generally experiences periods of intense fear that escalate from some terrifying thoughts to a point in which the child believes hell is involved, although there is no presence of an actual danger.

Researchers and studying are still conducted in order to know for sure the pathology of anxiety in children.

Diagnosing Anxiety in Children

Children who suffer from this type of disorder can be diagnosed either by observing their behavior or due to the fact that there are panic attacks involved. Despite the fact that it can easily be overlooked by adults, it has obvious symptoms in most of the cases, especially if the onset is on a young age.

When irrational fear, heart palpitations, episodes of panic, depression, fatigue, stomach aches, shortness of breath, chest pains, or more dangerous manifestations such as throwing things are involved, the parent should immediately take the child to a medical control because there are high chances of him/her suffering from this problem. Furthermore, it also co-appears with ADD and ADHD which means that symptoms may be co-present. This is why it is important for a specialized healthcare to be present throughout the diagnosis and treatment of this bodily issue in order for the child to have more chances of being cured.

Treatment for Anxiety in Children

Depending on the severity and type of anxiety, the treatment often prescribed is medication in combination to therapy. The most common types of therapy utilized are CBT or cognitive behavioral-therapy which lasts for approximately twelve weeks, ACT or acceptance and commitment therapy, or DBT also known as dialectical behavioral therapy.

While CBT targets the replacement of negative thoughts into positive ones, through ACT the child will learn how to accept himself, and DBT offers help when it comes to dealing with intense conflicts or negative emotions.

However, in difficult cases, the therapy has to be mixed with some medication. There was actually a study which revealed that over-the-counter or prescribed medication in addition to therapy has helped children from seven to seventeen years of age reach better results in faster periods than the ones who only took the drugs or followed the therapy.

Among the most popular prescribed medication for anxiety, there are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRI, benzodiazepines and antidepressants. However, the FDA announced in 2004 that there are serious concerns related to these types of drugs because in some cases they may lead to suicidal behavior or thoughts. So far there haven’t been discontinued, but they are prescribed less frequently.