Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents
Is your child suffering from an anxiety disorder? Anxiety at times is normal throughout a child’s development into adolescence and can help us to cope by getting us through a tense situation, cause us to study harder for an exam, or keep focused on an important speech. Young children usually grow out of normal short-lived fears such as being afraid of the dark, storms, animals, being separated from a parent, or strangers, but children and teens with an anxiety disorder experience fear, nervousness, and shyness and start to avoid places and activities. A child with an anxiety disorder cannot be comforted or reassured to get past his or her fear and anxiety.
What are common Anxiety Disorders?
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Children and teens with generalized anxiety experience chronic excessive anxiety about multiple areas of their lives, which may include school, family, social situations, health, and natural disasters. Children and teens with generalized anxiety disorder may be very hard on themselves and strive for perfection. They may also seek constant approval or reassurance from others. The 12-month prevalence of generalized anxiety disorder is 0.9% and is twice as common in females than males.
- Separation Anxiety: Children with separation anxiety feel excessive fear of being away from their home or caretakers. Children may complain of homesickness and refuse to go to school, camp, or sleepovers. These children commonly worry about something bad happening to their parents or caregivers or that they may become lost, kidnapped, or sick if they are apart. Children with separation anxiety cannot be distracted after a parent leaves and take longer than other children to calm down after a parent has left. The 12-month prevalence of separation anxiety disorder is 4% in children and 1.6% in adolescents.
- Specific Phobia: Characterized by anxiety and fear regarding a particular object (ex: spiders) or situations (ex: driving on the highway). The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is almost always immediately brought on by the phobic situation to a degree that is out of proportion to the actual risk posed. The etiology of specific phobia can be genetic or environmental. The 12-month prevalence rate of social anxiety is 7%, with a higher ratio of females exhibiting the disorder, especially in adolescence.
- Social Anxiety Disorder: Teens are more often diagnosed with social anxiety disorder than children. Children and teens with a social phobia feel anxiety in social settings or performance situations like being called on in class, starting a conversation with a peer, using a public restroom, speaking in public, or eating in a restaurant. Those with a social phobia suffer from an extreme fear of being humiliated or embarrassed in front of other people. It can cause uncontrollable and negative reactions to social situations and can result in isolation, depression, and substance abuse.
- Panic Disorder: When a child or teen displays intense physical symptoms like a rapid heartbeat or difficulty breathing that seem to occur out of no where, these are commonly associated with a panic disorder. The 12-month prevalence rate of panic disorder is less than .4% in children below the age of 14, and 2-4% in adolescents, with a higher ratio of females exhibiting this disorder.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: If your child is having intrusive thoughts that are causing them anxiety and then move on to do ritualistic behavior, these are common traits of Obsessive Compulsive disorder.
- Selective Mutism: Characterized by a consistent failure to speak in social situations where there is an expectation to speak, even though the individual speaks in other situations. One example is a child who does not speak in school but speaks normally at home. The prevalence of selective mutism ranges from .03%-1%.
What type of anxiety is normal for children?
Below are some common anxieties children have at different age ranges.
- 2-4 years – anxiety about going on the potty, water (the bath/pools), dark, loud noises, “bad” people, strangers, costumed characters, being separated from parent, getting lost
- 5-7 years old – fear of the dark, monsters/ghosts, “bad” people, parent not returning, getting lost, bugs/animals/insects, doctors/dentists, thunder/lightning
- 8-11 years old – “bad” people/ghosts/supernatural, dying/sickness (themselves/loved ones/pets), social situations (peers liking them), taking tests
- 12 and beyond – social situations/what others think of them, appearance, school/athletic performance, things going on in the world (natural disasters/war/terrorism/crime)
Counseling Services for Children and Adolescents
Seeking Therapy Counseling Services is a specialty clinic for children, adolescents, and young adults with anxiety and ADHD disorders.
Michelle Landeros, the founder of Seeking Therapy Counseling Services, has expertise in the full range of anxiety disorders, and sub-specializations in ADHD, ADD and Trauma.
If you are looking for help for anxiety, it is likely that one of the services provided at Seeking Therapy Counseling Services in Chula Vista would meet your needs. My practice relies on CBT and cognitive work to guide my work, while using a flexible and individualized approaches, including play therapy to meet each family’s needs.