We teach our children to be cautious, to not talk to strangers, to not stray from our sight, to not answer the door or the phone if home alone. When children are apprehensive about certain events, it is acceptable and can prevent a child from harm. Anxiety is also a normal part of childhood development. As toddlers, children experience separation anxiety. Many children use a night-light, as they are scared of the dark. These are normal childhood behaviors and children do not recognize their fears as being unreasonable. How then, can parents distinguish an anxiety disorder from childhood fears?
Phobias can appear at any age. The Children's Hospital of Boston indicates that anywhere from 1 percent to 9 percent of children may have a specific phobia. Some of the signs of a phobia in children are:
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of Breath
- Upset stomach
- Feeling of going crazy
- Fear of dying
- Chills/Hot flashes
These symptoms may be confusing for parents and can be mistaken for symptoms of a physical illness. In many cases, a child might be diagnosed with anxiety only after a visit to the doctor for physical symptoms.
KidsHealth.org lists several questions parents can ask themselves to help determine if a child has "normal fears" or is dealing with symptoms of an anxiety disorder:
- Is your child's fear and the behavior he or she is exhibiting typical for your child's age?
- What are the symptoms of the fear, and how do they affect your child's personal, social, and academic functioning?
- Does the fear seem unreasonable in relation to the reality of the situation; and could it be a sign of a more serious problem?
Parents know their child best. When a parent feels there is a problem, seeking the advice of a physician is recommended. However, it is important for parents not to overreact. An isolated incident of fear does not indicate an anxiety disorder, a pattern of fear may. Phobias do not necessarily disappear over time, but there is treatments available that have been found to be very effective.
Treatment for children often includes cognitive-behavioral therapy. A mental health professional will be able to work with your child on how to best deal with panic attacks). Some therapists may recommend family therapy as well.
For some children, medications may be recommended.
Phobias, Children's Hospital of Boston
Specific Phobias, 2001, The Child Anxiety Network
Anxiety, Fears and Phobias, 2007, Reviewed by D'Arcy Lyness, PhD, KidsHealth.org
Published On: June 16, 2008