Does your child seem nervous or worried more often than other children his/her age?
- What is anxiety?
- Anxiety is very common in children and adolescents, as it is in adults. However, it is important to remember that some anxiety is very normal and common to all children and adolescents. It is only when the anxiety starts to get in the way of the child’s everyday activities or routines that anxiety is of concern (“elevated”).
- Child and adolescent anxiety may come in many different forms. A common example is that some children may become worried when they have to leave a parent or trusted adult. Depending on the age of the child, this may be completely normal, especially in younger children. However, over time this separation anxiety should decrease.1
- Other forms of child anxiety include:1
- Being fearful of specific objects (i.e., dogs) or situations (i.e., getting shots)
- Being scared to be around large groups of people, people the child does not know, or new situations
- Having consistent worrisome thoughts or beliefs which the child feels will only be relieved by performing certain behaviors over and over again (i.e., excessive hand washing to relieve a fear of germs, checking and re-checking locks and doors to make sure they are closed).
- Constantly worrying about several different events or activities with no obvious reason.
- Particularly in these situations, it is important to remember that if the child’s fears or worries are not getting in the way of their everyday functioning or well-being, they may not be considered elevated.
- Children may also experience high levels of anxiety in response to a difficult situation and/or trauma. In these cases, anxiety may begin immediately after the trauma, or it may wait several weeks, months, or even years to develop. While some anxiety is considered to be normal following such a situation, when the anxiety begins to interfere with functioning a child should be evaluated further.1
- Some common symptoms of child anxiety include: crying, freezing, restlessness, being very tired, trouble concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, disturbed sleep, or tantrumming (to avoid the feared object or situation). 1
- It is important to note that anxiety types and symptoms may look different in children of different ages. For example, difficulty separating is very common in younger children but becomes less common as children age. Also, it may be easier to spot elevated anxiety in younger children, while adolescents may find it easier to hide their worries. Keeping in mind the child’s age, development, and communication abilities will be key in helping determine whether anxiety is normal or it may be elevated.
- How common is anxiety in children and adolescents?
- Anxiety is very common in children and adolescents, as it is in adults. However, it is important to remember that some anxiety is very normal and common to all children and adolescents. It is only when the anxiety starts to get in the way of the child’s everyday activities or routines that anxiety is considered concerning (“elevated”).
- Anxiety is often more common in children of parents who have elevated anxiety levels.1
- Up to 1 in 10 children may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.3 Even more children have elevated anxiety levels but do not qualify for an anxiety disorder diagnosis.
- What can I do if my child has been diagnosed with anxiety?
- Visit a mental health professional who can assess your child for anxiety. Please click here to learn about mental health providers in your area who can assess for and/or treat anxiety in children and adolescents. If you are outside the central MS area, please click on the following link(s) to learn about community mental health resources in your area: http://www.dmh.state.ms.us/pdf/CYSDirectory-Arial-9-15-08.pdf, http://www.nami.org/MSTemplate.cfm?Site=NAMI_Mississippi
- Anxiety disorders are often diagnosed with other forms of mood disorders, eating disorders, or substance use.2 Therefore, it is important that in any mental health assessment for anxiety disorders, other conditions are considered and evaluated and/or ruled out.
- Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) is an organization for families of individuals (including children and adolescents) who have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders, or who have elevated levels of anxiety. It provides a great deal of information and guidance on how to help individuals diagnosed with anxiety disorders in all aspects of their lives. Please visit the ADAA website at http://www.adaa.org/.
1American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed. rev.). Washington, D. C.: Author.
2Retrieved March 2, 2009 from http://www.apahelpcenter.org/articles/topic.php?id=6#Anxiety%20Disorder.