Being afraid and anxious at certain times during childhood has always been considered a normal phase of growing up. Now, it is a fact that anxiety disorders are among the most prevalent mental disorders faced by children and adolescents. Although it may seem a little extreme to jump from feeling fear to having an anxiety disorder, think about the results - if fear and anxiety are experienced to a pathological degree, then it could lead to severe depression and suicide. Additionally, an untreated childhood disorder is pretty certain to lead to an adult mental disorder.
Everyone feels fearful and anxious at various times in their lives and children are certainly no exception. In fact, without fear, we probably wouln't be here as it is an essential survival mechanism. When it comes to children, that childhood fear of the dark, apprehension in new situations like starting school and separation anxiety are all natural fears when they are temporary. It is when the fear becomes a permanent emotion which impacts on normal activities that there is a possible development of an anxiety disorder.
Parents or caretakers should become concerned when a child loses the willingness to push the boundaries just a little. To be a child is to discover and learn and if fear inhibits this process, then a lot of the joy in being a child is lost. On the other hand, there are children who are naturally timid and shy and if these personality traits do not interfere with day to day activities like playing with friends, going to school and getting a good nights sleep, then you are probably not dealing with a potential anxiety disorder.
Children's fears are age-specific, which means that there are stages most kids go through. For example, until the age of 2, loud noises, strangers and being separated from their parents will make infants and toddlers afraid. Between 3 and 6 years of age, the imagination plays a major role with ghosts, monsters, the dark and natural phenomenon like thunder and floods. From the age of 7 until mid-adolescence, fear of doing badly at school, death, injury, bad health and the unpredictability of natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes are prevalent.
Children can be affected by seven types of anxiety disorders.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is diagnosed when the child worries excessively about a broad range of things including things they have said and done, upcoming events, family and school. They worry to such an extent that they become restless, are irritable, tired and have difficulty concentrating. They may be unable to sleep.
Panic Disorder is present when the child has recurring panic attacks and is anxious and fearful about having them. Avoidance behaviour is one consequence.
Separation Anxiety Disorder occurs mostly with younger children who are anxious at being separated from their primary caregiver. They child worries about what will become of them in the caregiver's absence or what might happen to the caregiver.
Specific Phobias occur in response to such things as the dark, spiders, bees and dogs. The fear is present to the extent that normal activities are disrupted or impossible.
Social Phobia is more common amongst adolescents who dread humiliation in public places to such an extent that they avoid social situations.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder occurs when obsessions or intrusive thoughts and compulsions or repetitive behaviours interfere with daily activities. Compulsions are usually the result of the child trying to drown out unacceptable thoughts with rituals like washing their hands repeatedly.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder forms as the result of trauma such as the death of a loved one, an accident or divorce. The child becomes over-anxious at the lack of control they had over events and worries about future occurrences.
Anxiety Disorders do react well to treatment but the difficulty with children is that they do not know themselves that what they feel is not felt by all children. Therefore, it is up to the caregivers to recognize the problem and seek treatment for the child.