Introduction to Anxiety and Child Anxiety Disorders

Childhood Anxiety Disorders
Children as well as adults experience feelings of anxiety, worry, and fear when facing different situations, especially those involving new experiences. However, if anxiety is no longer temporary and begins to interfere with the child’s normal functioning or do harm to their learning, the problem may be diagnosed as more than just the ordinary anxiety typical in children.

When children suffer from a severe anxiety disorder, their thinking, decision-making ability, perceptions of the environment, learning and concentration may be affected. They not only experience fear, nervousness, and shyness but also may start avoiding places and activities. Anxiety raises blood pressure and heart rate and can cause nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, ulcers, diarrhea, tingling, weakness, and shortness of breath. Some other symptoms are self-doubt and self-criticism, irritability, sleep problems and, in extreme cases, thoughts of not wanting to be alive.
If these children are left untreated, they face risks such as poor results at school, avoidance of important social activities, and substance abuse. Children who suffer from an anxiety disorder are likely to suffer other disorders such as depression, eating disorders, attention deficit disorders both hyperactive and inattentive, and obsessive compulsive disorders
Research in this area is difficult to perform because as children grow their fears change, making it difficult for researchers to obtain enough data and thus more reliable results. Between the ages of six and eight, children’s fear of the dark and imaginary creatures decreases, but they become more anxious about school performance and social relationships. If children experience an excessive amount of anxiety during this stage, this could lead to development of anxiety disorders later in life.
Childhood anxiety disorders are caused by biological and psychological factors. Several studies have shown that maternal overcontrol is related to higher levels of child anxiety. Stress can also trigger anxiety disorders. Children and adolescents with anxiety disorders have an increased physical and psychological reaction to stress. Their reaction to danger, even if it is a small one, is quicker and stronger.
Many of the same anxiety disorders that affect adults affect children as well. A common anxiety disorder in children is school phobia, which in some cases can be a type of separation anxiety. Sometimes the anxiety has no obvious cause. In other instances, the child may experience bullying from classmates, or even a teacher. They could also be stressed from the workload they are given. School phobia may also be a form of social phobia, also known as social anxiety. Children with this disorder may avoid speaking in front of their classmates or meeting new people. Typically, social phobia in children is caused by some traumatic event, such as not knowing an answer when called on in class.
Like adults, children may suffer from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The symptoms for both disorders are the same in children as they are in adults. If a child has GAD, they may worry about anything, even if it is seemingly minor. They long for attention, approval, and encouragement from others. The only difference is they are more likely to worry about things that relate to them. Those things may include, grades, bullies, getting hurt, storms, etc. The symptoms of OCD include repetitive and/or compulsive behaviors.
It is more common for children whose parents have anxiety disorders to attain an anxiety disorder than it is for children whose parents do not have anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are also more common among little girls than among little boys.
Several methods of treatment have been found to be effective in treating childhood anxiety disorders. Like adults, children may undergo psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or counseling. They may still be given medication such as SSRIs, but in much smaller doses. However, administering potent medications like antidepressants to children is controversial. As a result, other forms of treatment have become increasingly popular. Family therapy is a form of treatment in which the child meets with a therapist together with the primary guardians and siblings. Each family member may attend individual therapy, but family therapy is typically a form of group therapy. Art and play therapy are also used. Art therapy is most commonly used when the child will not or cannot verbally communicate, due to trauma or a disability in which they are nonverbal. Participating in art activities allows the child to express what they otherwise may not be able to communicate to others. In play therapy, the child is allowed to play however they please as a therapist observes them. The therapist may intercede from time to time with a question, comment, or suggestion. This is often most effective when the family of the child plays a significant role in the treatment.

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