Does My Child Have Anxiety?
All kids worry from time to time. Anxious feelings are common and learning to deal with stressful emotions is a natural part of growing up.
When fears and worries last for longer periods of time, it may be a sign your child is struggling with anxiety. Especially when anxiety clouds their thoughts and affects their daily life, schooling and family interactions.
Untreated anxiety in childhood can lead to more intense anxiety in adulthood, so it’s important to nip it in the bud and get your child the support they need. If anxiety is caught during early childhood, it can be easily treated through different forms of therapy that can teach ways to keep their worries and fears in check.
- What is ‘Normal’ Anxiety in Children?
- Symptoms of Anxiety
- When to Get Help for Anxiety Issues
- Where to Get Help
- How Can a Psychologist Help Anxiety in Children?
- Types of Anxiety in Children
What is ‘Normal’ Anxiety in Children?
‘Normal’ anxiety refers to pent-up feelings of worry, stress or fear. In most cases, anxiety in children is short-lived and goes away after a short while. Kids usually learn how to cope with worries and fears through trial and error.
Younger children in particular, may often feel stressed or overwhelmed when things don’t go their way or turn out how they’d expect. This is usually because they lack lived experience and as such, it’s easy for them to feel worried or scared about what’s to come.
There are some common traits of anxious behaviour among children within particular age brackets. These universal fears and worries are a normal part of a child’s life and development. Rather than identifying which of these are normal, it’s how you teach kids to deal with them that counts.
The way you teach kids to deal with anxiety during their early childhood greatly influences the way they respond to negative thoughts later on in life. Therefore, it’s a good idea to acknowledge your child’s fear and reassure them that this is a normal feeling that many children of their age experience. Criticising them for feeling anxious or scared will only make it harder for them.
Young Children Aged 2-5 Years Old
Babies and toddlers do not tend to worry about things, as they haven’t yet developed the emotional understanding to plan or stress about the future.
Anxiety in children of this age range has more to do with fears of the unknown or unfamiliar and this is completely normal. Some examples include:
- Fear of strangers
- Fear of heights
- Fear of loud noises
- Separation anxiety (being away from parents for an extended period of time)
- Fear of being left alone
- Fear of the dark
These are all common examples of fears that induce anxiety or panic in children before they enter school.
Children Aged 6-12 Years Old
Slightly older children start to develop deeper concerns and worries about things around them, rather than fear or abandonment based anxiety seen in younger children under five years old. Awareness of themselves and their own feelings is a sign that they are maturing and thinking more about the social environment around them.
Typically, school age children start to worry about things such as:
- Social situations and interactions
- Performance at school
- Relationships at school
- Getting hurt or sick
Symptoms of Anxiety
Children who constantly feel anxious may choose to avoid difficult situations altogether. As a result, they may become overly dependent on their parents or guardians to deal with issues that make them uncomfortable.
Signs of anxiety vary greatly according to the child. A number of factors can influence the frequency and duration of these symptoms. These symptoms are not isolated and a child struggling with anxiety may experience multiple feelings, thoughts, behaviour and physical reactions at the same time.
When a child’s anxiety is becoming too difficult for them to cope with on their own, it can have negative consequences for their general frame of mind and self-esteem.
There are four main groups of symptoms of anxiety including:
Feelings are usually the initial response that come about as a result of anxiety. Common feelings in children that frequently experience anxiety may include:
- Feeling overwhelmed and dazed
- Intense fear or worry
- A sense of impending doom
- Constantly nervous in social situations
- Easily irritable
- Constantly in a sad or bad mood
Anxious children often share similar patterns of thought that are usually self-deprecating in nature. Thoughts are shaped by the initial anxious feelings that are experienced by the child. For instance, an anxious child who feels overwhelmed may experience racing thoughts or mind blanks as a result. Some common thoughts among children with anxiety include:
- Mind-racing or mind blanks
- Unrealistic fears or worries
- Unwanted or intrusive thoughts
- Self-blaming thoughts
- Self consciousness
Anxious behaviour is generally reflective of how anxious children decide to act on their thoughts. Behavioural responses depend heavily on the personality of the child and how they choose to react to their insecure thoughts. Common behaviour patterns exhibited by young children with anxiety include:
- Becoming uncontrollably upset if there is a mistake or sudden change to their routine
- Withdrawing from or completely avoiding uncomfortable situations
- Constantly seeking reassurance from parents or teachers
- Argumentative and anti-social
- Tries to get others to do the things they don’t want to
- Pessimistic or overly cautious towards everything
Physical reactions are involuntary body sensations that the child has no control over but displays regularly because they feel overwhelmed with extreme fear or worry. These knee-jerk reactions can include:
- Elevated heart-rate, chest pains and shortness of breath
- Dizziness or sudden headaches
- Insomnia and/or nightmares
- Sweating, numbness and hot or cold flushes
- Constant leg shaking or nail biting
- Choking up or dry mouth
When to Get Help for Anxiety Issues
It can be a good idea to seek professional help if anxiety is having an impact on your child’s mental health for prolonged periods of time. It’s important to find coping strategies for your child before their worries and fears lead to an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety can be debilitating, especially for young kids who haven’t yet developed the ability to deal with their emotions in a productive way. So naturally, as a parent, you may be wondering what initial signs to look out for.
Although all kids learn at a different pace and anxiety affects each person differently, there are some tell-tale signs that may indicate that it needs to be dealt with. These can include the following:
- Your child’s fears and worries are causing extreme levels of stress or depression
- Their worries are accumulating and causing regular panic attacks
- It is stopping them from doing the things they want to do leaving them constantly frustrated or angry with themselves
- It is interfering with their relationships at school or at home
- Your child’s behaviour is very different from other children their age
- They are experiencing intense or unreasonable fear towards a specific situation or thing (potentially a phobia)
At the end of the day, there is no explicit framework or guidelines that indicate whether anxiety is a problem or not. Unlike with older children, it can be difficult for your child to self-diagnose the problem.
As a rule of thumb, if repeated patterns of anxiety are taking an emotional toll on your child, then do not be afraid to reach out to your nearest health professional for advice.
Where to Get Help
There are plenty of places to seek advice if you are looking for alternative approaches to help your child overcome their anxiety. One of the best places to start can be by asking your child what you can do to help or by contacting their teachers if their anxiety is stemming from school life.
If you’ve already taken those initiatives but your child is still struggling to adapt, then it may be best to book in with a mental health professional to identify the next course of action.
Anxiety disorders can only be diagnosed by a GP, psychologist or psychiatrist and they can administer the right treatment to help your child manage and express their emotions in a healthier way.
How a Psychologist Can Help Anxiety in Children?
Psychological therapy is one of the most effective ways to manage anxiety, phobias and depression. For many young children who experience anxiety early on in their life, if left untreated, the symptoms may persist into adulthood and even worsen over time. That’s why addressing these issues through therapy has proven to be highly beneficial in the short and long term.
Psychologists who specialise in child behavioural therapy can provide a variety of different techniques to treat anxiety problems or disorders in young kids. These may include different ways of coping with anxious emotions, or changing their patterns of thinking to avoid unnecessary worries altogether.
Anxiety is a part of life and should not be stigmatised. Our team of certified psychologists have extensive experience in child and adolescent counselling so you can feel confident that your child’s health is in the right hands. We offer an online tool to ensure that you can find the perfect psychologist to help manage your child’s anxiety, because we know just how important finding the right fit is.
Types of Anxiety Treatments
Children who have severe anxiety can benefit heavily from psychological therapy techniques aimed to help them manage their anxiety by gradually changing the way that they think and behave.
Examples of specific treatment therapy include:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – Aims to change negative patterns of thought that contribute to anxiety
- Exposure Therapy – Gradual exposure helps overcome phobias and fears in a safe and controlled environment
- Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) – Teaches stress prevention for social interactions and relationships that may trigger anxiety
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) – Helps individuals come to terms with intrusive thoughts that induce anxiety and encourages them to embrace behavioural changes
- Mindfulness-based Therapy (MBT) – Teaches mindfulness techniques to encourage self-acceptance
- Narrative Therapy – Allows individuals to separate themselves from their negative experiences and embrace them as a learning experience
Your child’s therapy will depend on the type of anxiety disorder they are experiencing and the severity. There is no one-size-fits-all therapy and sometimes a mixture may be required to achieve the best results. Your psychologist will discuss the available support options together with you and your child to determine the best course of action.
What are the Common Types of Anxiety Disorders in Children?
General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterised by excessive ongoing worry about many things for no apparent reason. Children will often blow their worries out of proportion and may be overly emotional due to pent-up stress.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation anxiety disorder is one of the most common types of disorders in young children. It is a fear of being away from one’s parents or carers. Children with separation anxiety may cry or cling to their parents when they sense that they will be separated from them. This is very common in younger children, typically when they are 8-18 months old. However, there are cases where it may persist in school-aged children and this can be a cause for concern.
Social phobia or SAD is when children feel an intense and overwhelming fear of being embarrassed or judged by those around them. It is normal to feel anxious in certain social situations, but the anxiety can be debilitating for children with SAD and can sometimes result in them struggling to form relationships with others.
Sleep anxiety happens when children feel scared or severely stressed about falling or staying asleep. These patterns of thought often lead to poor sleep patterns and if left untreated, can have negative consequences for your child’s health.
More in-depth information regarding anxiety disorders and specific symptoms can be found here.
How is Anxiety Different From Depression?
Anxiety refers to uncontrollable feelings of stress, worry and fear. On the other hand, depression refers to intense feelings of sadness, as well as hopelessness and is characterised by a lack of motivation. Though the two are distinctly different mood disorders, many people struggle with both.
Can I Get Financial Support from Medicare to See a Psychologist?
The Mental Health Care Plan (MHCP) allows you to claim up to 10 sessions every year with a Medicare registered health professional. You will need to consult your GP for them to arrange a referral form that outlines what the MHCP will help you achieve. If you’re unsure about whether your child qualifies for a MHCP, check out our extensive guide for more information.