As parents, we usually feel like we have a monopoly on worrying. We worry about our son’s diet, his friends, his health, his education, and his future. However, sometimes we don’t recognize the anxiety that our child is dealing with.
Anxiety is a growing problem in children and teens, and it manifests itself in many different ways. Here are some basics about childhood anxiety disorders, and how you can recognize the signs so that you can get help for your son.
Signs of Anxiety in Children
Anxiety in children can be hard to recognize because it looks different from anxiety in adults. Children don’t usually know the word “anxiety” and they can’t express the distress that they’re experiencing. It can also be difficult to distinguish between a disorder and something that could simply be a phase. Here are some signs of anxiety that might sound all too familiar to you if you have a son struggling with anxiety:
- Constant and persistent fear from which they can’t be distracted or reasoned.
- Frequent trouble sleeping.
- Physical symptoms like headaches or stomachaches.
- Hesitance or avoidance in social situations, especially when they’re asked to interact with either adults or children their own age.
- Frequent tantrums or defiance. Anxiety can turn into a child “acting out” which confuses parents. However, if tantrums are a frequent problem, it’s important to try to troubleshoot the underlying cause.
- Pessimism and negative thinking cycles.
- Self-criticism and perfectionism, often with the child repeating a task over and over again in order to get it right.
Common Anxiety Disorders in Children
- Separation Anxiety: Separation anxiety is very common in children between 18 months and three years. And often, a child who is left at school for the first time, or brought into an unfamiliar situation, will experience some level of trepidation and homesickness. However, persistent separation anxiety that extends beyond age three and keeps your son from doing healthy and enriching activities could be cause for concern.
- Generalized Anxiety: Children with generalized anxiety worry obsessively over grades, relationships, loved ones, and safety. Often, it’s difficult to reason away their fear or distract them from it. Children may also be hard on themselves and exhibit perfectionist behavior.
- OCD: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder usually manifests itself around 10 years old, but it can be evident as young as 3. OCD usually shows up in children in the form of tics and quirks. They may also have compulsions, like needing to do repetitive tasks or repeating words and phrases.
- Panic Disorder: Panic disorder can be scary, as it’s characterized by sudden panic attacks, interspersed by anxiety that another one will happen.
What Causes Childhood Anxiety Disorders?
The cause of childhood anxiety varies according to the specific disorder and the child in question. It could be caused by a hormonal imbalance, or developed as a reaction to certain events or conditions in the child’s life. Often, it’s hard to discern a cause at all. However, it’s important to treat the anxiety seriously and seek out treatment, if anxiety is keeping your son from living a fulfilling life. Many parents hope that the anxiety is just a phase, only to find that it continues and even gets more severe with time.