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Anxiety and Phobias in Childhood FAQ

written by: jason1244 • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 5/17/2011

"She's not sleeping at night and has become very clingy." The mornings have become a battleground, and just getting out the door to the car is like rock climbing barefoot, it requires the sacrifice of a lot of flesh and blood. There is hope and the problem may not be what you think it is.

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    Does Your Kid have an Anxiety Disorder?

    Don’t get yourself all worked up if your child is having a temper tantrum at the dinner table when asked to finish their peas, or bedwetting after a long stressful day. I still have trouble with the former, and finally got over the latter. All children demand a certain amount of attention and your child is probably no different. Your child’s fear or anxiety becomes a problem when it starts to interfere with normal activities like going to school, playing with friends, being left alone or sleeping at night.

    Here are some questions that parents frequently ask themselves about anxiety and phobias in children.

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    Most Common Questions About Anxiety and Phobias in Children

    Why is my child overly anxious about going to school?

    Going to school, especially for the first time is a normal stressful situation for any child, even if your child is the brightest, most confident child you know. Most children eventually get over the anxiety of going to school after they have connected with two or three new friends, received some reassurance, and discovered the new toilets. Look for prolonged periods of anxiety in your child’s behavior, some signs may include:

    • many worries about things before they happen
    • constant worries or concerns about family, school, friends, or activities
    • repetitive, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or actions (compulsions)
    • fears of embarrassment or making mistakes
    • low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence

    Anxiety is a treatable condition; pay attention to your child’s behavior and don’t be dismissive. It may just be the case that you have the type of child who is not showing any of the above signs of anxiety, but is suffering in silence and only wants to do what is necessary to make others happy. This too can be an indication of anxiety in some children.

    What happened, my child isn’t sleeping through the night anymore?

    Nightmares are a part of growing up and your child may have experienced something during the day, or past week that has created some negative feelings that he or she is expressing through dreams at night. There is a period of time when all children ask you to leave the light on or come and sleep next to them until they fall asleep - this could continue through the entirety of their preschool life. Most preschool aged children will start to gradually develop their independence and this type of anxiety will begin to pass with time.

    Common Children Anxiety Disorders

    Generalized anxiety disorder- (GAD) People with GAD constantly worry and have anxiety over all sorts of things in their lives. Preschool children with GAD will commonly worry or be afraid of things like sleeping in the dark, strangers, some animals and thunder storms; my twelve year old daughter still comes downstairs into my bedroom during storms. Older children will worry (over anxiously) about almost anything - their clothes, school, homework, the people at school, the world coming to an end, being late or being liked. They are restless, irritable, and tense and they may have problems concentrating or sleeping. Remember, this only becomes a serious mental health problem if it is interfering with the child’s ability to accomplish normal daily activities.

    Does My Child have Separation Anxiety?

    If your child’s anxiety about being separated from you or their other primary caregivers affects their ability to function at school or socialize with friends, it could be a problem and worth investigating further with your doctor. Signs of separation anxiety include your child being extra clingy when you are around, or if they excessively worry when you are late and prefer to stay with you rather than socialize with friends or go to school.

    Paying attention and reassuring your child will help, but if these behaviors persist, consult professional advice early and get your child treated as soon as you can. Again, anxiety is a treatable condition; don't hesitate to get the help your child needs.

    To Your Health

    JB

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    References

    1. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: Facts for Families: The Anxious Child - http://aacap.org/page.ww?name=The+Anxious+Child&section=Facts+for+Families

    2. National Institute Of Mental Health - http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/1ANYANX_child.shtml