Childhood Anxiety by Emilie DeYoung, PhD, LMSW, ACSW
Development of Fear
All children have fears. In fact, around the age of 3 or 4, children’s emotions develop in a way that allows them to experience a sense of fear. In many ways fear is a healthy protective emotion that prevents children from jumping from a top a playground slide or climbing into a cage with a lion. In these early stages, fears often revolve around external sources. (i.e. animals or monsters under the bed.) Eventually, around the age of 8, fears tend to focus on internal experiences (i.e. Do my friends like me? or Will I get a good grade on my test?) While most of these fears occur throughout the course of natural development, at times they can become excessive – often resulting in concern for parents. When anxiety becomes excessive or persistent, the presence of a childhood anxiety disorder should be considered. Childhood Anxiety Disorders can be categorized in many ways – Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD), General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), but there are often overlapping symptoms.
Symptoms of childhood anxiety fall within three categories:
- Head aches
- Stomach aches
- Increased heart rate
- Worries about parents/caregivers
- Worry about performance (i.e. school or otherwise)
- Overestimating potential threats
- Under estimating the ability to cope
- Sleep disturbance
- Avoidance of perceived threat
- Social withdrawal
When To Consider Help
- The child fails to demonstrate mastery over the fear, even after several months.
- Fears become so excessive that they disrupt daily functioning. (i.e. refusal to go to school or unwillingness to sleep in bedroom.)
- Consider the distress level of the child. (i.e. How frequently do the fears arise? How intense are the fears? or How much does the fear bother the child?)
Anxiety disorders among children are both the most common and the most “treatable” mental health issues. Counseling offers children the tools necessary to combat anxiety which help them enjoy life and reach their potential.
If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, please consider contacting our office to set up an appointment.