Anxiety Disorders in Children

present in very different ways. Anxiety in childhood may present as difficulty falling asleep, difficulty eating, difficulty at school, difficulty visiting others, problems making new friends, extreme problems with separation from the parent. Anxiety problems may also present as extreme fear of certain objects, things, or animals. Anxiety problems can often present as difficulty with transitions or with new situations, rigidity, stubbornness, and will often times be accompanied by temper tantrums and/or acting out behaviors. In obsessive compulsive problems a child is overwhelmed with recurrent worries over something. Common obsessions may include needing things to be perfectly in order, things to be lined up perfectly, fear of germs, fear of death, or fear the house may burn down, and many other fears. To help themselves cope children with anxiety disorders will often develop behaviors or rituals which are called compulsions. Organizing, checking locks, cleaning, hand washing, are a few common compulsions seen when this is going on.

Panic Disorder is another common and treatable form of anxiety. Children and adolescents with panic disorder have unexpected and repeated periods of intense fear, discomfort, a racing heartbeat, dizziness, shortness of breath, trembling as well as other possible symptoms.

Problems with anxiety frequently occur after an overwhelming event. Death of a family member, divorce, abuse, witnessing violence, a difficult move, a change in schools, or stress in the family can all result in the development of anxiety in children and adolescents. If the events were very traumatic the child or adolescent may develop what is termed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Symptoms may include sleep problems, bed-wetting, separation fears, temper tantrums, aggressiveness, being easily startled, or a recurrent need to ensure the safety of themselves and/or others.

Many parents make the mistake of waiting for things to get better on their own. Often, things do not. Most cases of anxiety disorder in children can be easily helped by early intervention through counseling. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is the evidence -based treatment of choice for anxiety. By helping the child identify, analyze, dispute, challenge and replace irrational thoughts with more realistic thoughts, the resulting emotions are more adaptive and calmer. Behavior modification training helps phase out the maladaptive, fear- based actions, as new healthy behaviors are developed.

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