National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week: Anxiety Disorders in Children
This week of May 2-8, has been designated by The National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health as National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. This awareness week is dedicated to increasing public awareness of the mental health issues of children and to promote well being for all children and youth. In order to do our part, we are going to discuss anxiety disorders in children and teens.
I do have much personal experience with parenting a child who suffers from anxiety. My son Max has autism and suffers from great anxiety due to his neurodevelopmental disorder. I have written about my experience parenting a child who has anxiety related disorders in my post, “Autism Spectrum Disorders and Anxiety.” I have watched my son attempt to cope with everthing from phobias, obsessions, and panic attacks. My son’s anxiety permeates every aspect of his life and daily routines. It is something that we are forced to think about each and every day. So I know firsthand how difficult it can be for a parent to see their child struggle with fear and anxiety. The good thing to know is that there is hope and there is treatment.
If you suspect that your child may suffer from an anxiety related disorder we are going to give you some early warning signs to look for and also provide some information and resources to get your child some help and treatment.
Symptoms of Anxiety in Children:
Our Eileen Bailey highlights some of the ways in which anxiety can manifest in children in her post, “Signs of Anxiety in Children”
• Excessive worry
• Being self-critical
• Trouble sleeping
• Intense desire for approval
• Inability to explain why they are worrying
• Difficulty with transitions, such as from school to home
• Not wanting to go to school
• Difficulty concentrating
The National Mental Health Information Center identifies six primary types of anxiety disorders which can occur in children:
1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder Your child may worry excessively and seek constant reassurance. They may complain about ailments such as headaches, stomach aches and fatigue.
2. Separation Anxiety Disorder If your child is over four years old and still becomes distressed, tearful, and clingy when you leave, your child may suffer from this anxiety disorder. Children who have this may be afraid to go to school, camp, or sleep overs. They may also have trouble sleeping and want the parent to be in the same room when they sleep.
3. Phobias I know about these firsthand as both my son and I suffer from phobias or excessive fear over certain situations or objects. Phobias can be quite difficult to deal with as they can restrict normal day to day routines.
4. Panic Disorder Panic disorder usually begins in the teen years and manifests as intense fear accompanied by bodily symptoms of a racing heart, sweating, dizziness and a feeling of impending doom. This anxiety disorder can be very difficult to cope with as the child may fear having repeated attacks.
5. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: My child has this type of anxiety disorder where he persists in repetitive and ritualistic behaviors due to anxiety. Some children with OCD may also have obsessive thoughts that they find distressing.
6. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Children who have suffered great trauma such as sexual or physical abuse or living through a natural disaster may develop PTSD as a result. Children with PTSD may suffer from flashbacks where they re-live the memory of the traumatic event. They may suffer from somatic complaints and have difficulties sleeping.
If you are concerned that your child may have an anxiety related disorder it is best to seek treatment for your child right away. You can always start with your child’s pediatrician and ask for a referral to a mental health agency, child psychologist, or other specialist. This is exactly what we did and we were given the name of a wonderful neurologist who specializes in treating children with developmental and emotional disorders.
Don’t hesitate to reach out for help for your child. And remember that if you are the parent of a child with a mental health disorder, you are not alone. I hope that we can provide you with support, information, and resources to guide you along your journey. It is also helpful and healing if we share our parenting experiences with one another. We want to hear your story!
Additional Information and Resources about Anxiety in Children and Teens from Health Central: