All children experience anxiety. Anxiety in children is expected and normal at specific times in development. For example, from approximately age 7 months through the preschool years, healthy youngsters may show intense distress (anxiety) at times of separation from their parents or other persons with whom they are close. Young children may have short-lived fears, (such as fear of the dark, storms, animals or strangers). However, when anxieties become severe and begin to interfere with the daily activities of childhood, such as separating from parents, attending school and making friends, parents should consider seeking counselling help. A child or adolescent with severe separation anxiety may show some of the following:
- constant thoughts and fears about safety of self and parents
- refusing to go to school
- frequent stomach aches and other physical complaints
- extreme worries about sleeping away from home
- overly clingy behaviour at home
- panic or tantrums at times of separation from parents
Some anxious children are afraid to meet or talk to new people. Children with this difficulty may have few friends outside the family. Other children with severe anxiety may have:
- many worries about things before they happen
- constant worries or concern about school, friends or sports
Anxious children are often overly tense or uptight. Some may seek a lot of reassurance, and their worries may interfere with activities. Because anxious children may also be quiet, compliant and eager to please, their difficulties may be missed. Parents should be alert to the signs of severe anxiety so they can intervene early to prevent complications. Early treatment can prevent future difficulties, such as, loss of friendships, failure to reach social and academic potential, and feelings of low self-esteem. Severe anxiety problems in children can be treated. Treatments may include a combination of the following: individual counselling, family therapy, medications, behavioural treatments, and consultation to the school. The School Social Worker can be particularly helpful in these matters.
The content of this article is partially derived from an article written by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.