Anxiety Disorders in Children
Anxiety problems are often overlooked in children because many adults assume that the simple life of a child cannot possibly be stress inducing. However, many children do suffer from anxiety disorder, and they are vastly undertreated. A normal degree of anxiety is expected to occur from time to time when special circumstances arise in a child's life. For example, the birth of a sibling, the death of a pet, or the start of a new school all may induce elevated tension. It is important to distinguish a normal elevation in anxiety level from an excessive degree of anxiety that may be pathologic.
Typically, if the child's anxiety does not manifest itself in physical symptoms, it is usually within normal limits. In addition, anxiety should not prevent the child from participating in routine activities. If anxiety interrupts playtime or mealtime, it may be time for the parents to seek professional help. Several distinct anxiety disorders can be present in children, and the most common ones are described in this section.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Children with generalized anxiety disorder have such an elevated degree of anxiety that they find it impossible to control their worries. In addition, they may feel restless and irritable, which makes it difficult for them to focus. The anxiety may also interfere with sleeping and eating.
Separation anxiety is a common childhood psychiatric condition. It is considered a normal part of childhood development when it occurs between the ages of six months and three or four years. Depending on the temperament of the individual child, anxiety may occur when the child is separated from the caregiver. Unless the intensity of the anxiety interferes with daily routine, it is not considered pathologic. School phobia is one form of separation anxiety, in which the child experiences an excessive degree of anxiety at school.
If your child is having a tough time enjoying playtime or adapting to the school environment, you may want to have him evaluated by a pediatric psychiatrist. Medication is usually not necessary, but it may be used in some cases.
Children are all unique, and personality differences certainly should not always be interpreted as abnormalities. However, children with obsessive-compulsive disorder have a hard time concentrating on their daily activities. Instead, their minds are preoccupied with intrusive thoughts and urges. They may act out these incessant thoughts by carrying out certain ritualistic acts. Most commonly, these involve a fear of dirt and germs. The fear of contamination causes them to wash their hands repeatedly, often to the point that they cannot get anything accomplished due to the amount of time they spend cleaning themselves.
Counseling may be effective for some children with obsessive- compulsive disorder, but there are also safe and effective medications that alleviate obsessive thoughts and acts. A mental- health professional is the best resource to consult for the management of this condition.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
This is perhaps the most serious form of childhood anxiety disorder. Children who have witnessed abusive acts or have been victims themselves can become fearful of certain situations. Violent circumstances are certainly traumatic, and verbal or emotional abuse can be just as harmful to a child's pysche as physical abuse. Recurring thoughts of the event may intrude on the daily activities of these children, and avoidance of objects or situations that may remind them of the event is common.
If your child has gone through a serious traumatic event and is having a hard time getting over his fears, you should seek counseling right away. Medication may be helpful in reducing the anxiety level, but long-term counseling is usually also necessary for a permanent recovery.