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Insight into the Signs and Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Children

written by: N Nayab • edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • updated: 1/26/2011

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is chronic worry and fear without any real cause. GAD affects one in eight children and may cause the child to underperform and or miss many social situations. Identifying the signs and symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder in children is very important.

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    Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Children Anxiety and fear are a normal part of growing up. When such worries and fears persist and start to interfere with a child or adolescent's routine activities, it could indicate generalized-anxiety disorder (GAD). Children suffering from GAD have no way to determine that they suffer from excessive anxiety and possible GAD, and as such, parents would do well to notice the signs and symptoms that may indicate generalized anxiety disorder in children.

    Image Credit: flickr.com/Alex Proimas

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    Behaviors Exhibited by Children with Generalized Anxiety Disorder

    Children suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) tend to worry excessively about just about all situations around them. They worry about their performance, relationships, health, financial matters, and many other situations.

    The most common behaviors exhibited by children with GAD include:

    • remaining obsessed with “what-ifs” for a wide range of scenarios, and worry about having to face the worst possible scenario in future events, social acceptance, and other situations. They also worry about how others might react toward anything they do. Such worries make them lead a restricted social life, at times refusing to go to school or sleep anywhere outside one’s home
    • dwelling on past behaviors and reviewing events long after others have forgotten about it. For instance, they constantly worry whether they hurt a friend by what they said long ago
    • worrying about their personal abilities, such as whether their performance is good enough for school academics or sports
    • making excessive inquiries and seeking information. They even resort to practices such as eavesdropping and looking over their shoulder to collect information from their parents. They do this out of the fear that the family faces financial, health, or other difficulties, and want to know whether that is the case
    • remaining in constant fear that any bad incident such as divorce, illness, car accidents or any other mishap would happen to them as well.

    Children with GAD may lack patience or persistence, rolling over from one activity to another. Such behaviors stem from their fear that they are not good enough in such activities. They tend to be very hard on themselves and strive for perfection, redoing activities to make it perfect and seeking constant approval or reassurance from others while they do so.

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    Symptoms

    Generalized anxiety disorders in children usually manifest the following symptoms to accompany their unrealistic fears and worries:

    • physical complaints such as stomach aches, headaches, muscles aches on a regular basis
    • trembling, twitching, a shaky feeling, and muscle soreness or aches, all related to the muscles
    • somatic symptoms such as shortness of breath, rapid heart beat, sweating, nausea, dry mouth, diarrhea, frequent urination, and cold hands
    • sleep disturbance accompanied by irritability and fatigue
    • inability to concentrate and being easily startled
    • feeling of a lump in the throat

    Each child experience childhood anxiety disorder symptoms differently.

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    The signs and symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder in children may resemble other medical conditions or psychiatric problems. Parents who witness such symptoms would do well to approach a mental health professional at the earliest and subject the child to a comprehensive psychiatric examination to confirm or rule out GAD. Early diagnosis and treatment offers the best possible chance to cope with the disorder and preempt future problems.

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    References

    1. Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” http://www.chp.edu/CHP/P01605. Retrieved 22 Januatry 2011.
    2. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. "Other Mental Disorders in Children and Adolescents." http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/mentalhealth/chapter3/sec6.html. Retrieved 22January 2011.