Treating Anxiety in Children and Teens
Abby Campbell, BSc, SFN, SSN, CPT, is a leading professional fitness and nutrition expert, researcher, and published author of "One Size Does NOT Fit All Diet Plan," one of Amazon's Top Gluten-Free and Weight Loss Diets. She is also a mother of three children - all labeled as either autistic, gifted, or creatively artistic. (You may read more about Abby at the bottom of this article.)
Does your child worry excessively about different things whether it has to do with school grades, peer relationships, or family issues? Maybe s/he doesn’t exhibit the typical anxiety symptoms such as feelings of nervousness, fear, or panic. But, have you noticed any strange behaviors such as stress, obsessiveness, or compulsiveness? Or, has your child withdrawn from friends and/or family? Has s/he begun stuttering or stopped talking in situations where speaking is expected? If your child exhibits any of these symptoms, s/he may have a clinical anxiety disorder that needs evaluation and help.
Evaluating Your Child for an Anxiety Disorder
Some anxiety is normal and can help children stay alert, focused, and ready to perform. However, some anxiety can be strong and sometimes overwhelming, especially when it is continuous. If anxiety interferes with your child’s ability to complete tasks, it can control the most enjoyable parts of his or her life.
As parents, we want our children to be happy, have good friends, and do well in school. We want them to be healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally. When they are physically hurt, it’s usually an easy fix. With small children, we kiss their booboos or cleanse their wounds and bandage them. However, teenagers seem to be quite resilient when they get bumps and bruises as they rarely require the help of parents. Unfortunately, you can’t just kiss their emotional pain away no matter how young or old your child is. Sometimes, we need help in this area.
If you notice anxiety symptoms in your children or teens, it is better to react quickly and take them to mental health professionals if needed. To determine whether professional involvement is needed and to evaluate your child's anxiety levels and risks, you can use this free online child anxiety test.
Types of Childhood Anxiety Disorders
With more than 10 to 20 percent of children in the United States having an anxiety disorder, it’s important to know what to look for if your child is displaying awkward behaviors. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, childhood anxiety disorders can exhibit in a variety of ways. Following is a list with a short description for each:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder – worries excessively about everything
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – thinks intrusively and feels compelled to repeatedly perform rituals
- Panic Disorder – suffers at least two unexpected anxiety attacks followed by at least one month of concern for having another attack
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – suffers from intense fear and anxiety and becomes emotionally numb and irritable after witnessing a traumatic life event
- Separation Anxiety Disorder – experiences excessive anxiety away from home or when separated from parents or caregivers
- Social Anxiety Disorder – intensely fears social and performance situations and activities
- Selective Mutism – refuses to talk in situations when it is expected or necessary
Specific Phobias – strongly fears specific objects or situations
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Anxiety Led by Neonatal and Childhood Complications
Children may get anxiety for a variety of reasons, but current research is presenting a strong relationship between anxiety and neonatal and childhood complications – particularly abuse. This is not to say that all childhood anxiety is due to abuse, nor is it to say that all children are vulnerable to anxiety due to abuse.
Some studies show that children exhibiting anxiety symptoms may be exposed or born to mothers who were abused. A 21-year longitudinal study recently published in the journal of Depression and Anxiety provided evidence that “childhood abuse adversely affects the mental health of the victim’s offspring well into adulthood.” In fact, a child has more than a 50 percent risk for anxiety and depression due to abuse exposure.
The Child Psychiatry and Human Development journal also published a study that demonstrates several associations between neonatal complications and childhood anxiety. Risk was higher for offspring of mothers who smoked, used prescription medication, or was ill during pregnancy.
Current evidence also proves that childhood maltreatment and its timing is a strong contributor for adolescent anxiety. The Child Abuse and Neglect journal reported that anxiety was greater in teens that were abused between birth and four years old, while depression was greater in teens that were mistreated during the ages of 10 and 12. In conclusion, abuse in early or late childhood exhibited greater anxiety and depression in adolescents.
Anxiety Symptoms in Young Children
Childhood and adolescent anxiety disorders have been shown to interfere with everyday life. In fact, it can affect learning, friendships, and family relationships. If not treated, there is an increased risk of failure academically and socially throughout adulthood. Jobs are also affected with many children either depending on welfare, government subsidies, and low-paying jobs. Childhood anxiety is also predictive of adult anxiety and depression disorders, psychiatric hospitalization, and suicide attempts. Therefore, it’s critical to have your child evaluated if you notice symptoms that are not normal behavior.
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About the Author
Abby Campbell, BSc, SFN, SSN, CPT, is a leading professional fitness and nutrition expert, researcher, published author, and a naturopathic doctorate candidate. For more than a decade, she has coached thousands of women locally and online to lose body fat and lead healthy lifestyles. Hundreds have also consulted with her on gluten- and lactose-free diets due to health concerns such as Celiacs, depression, and developmental disabilities. Abby is from Northern Virginia but now resides near Charlotte, North Carolina. She has been married for more than 20 years and has three grown daughters, one of which is autistic. She is a 20+ year cancer survivor.