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Does My Child Have an Anxiety Disorder?

Small fears and worries are normal for kids and teens. But when worry morphs into distress so that everyday life is difficult or your child acts out, anxiety may be controlling parts of his or her life. About 3 percent of U.S. kids and teens have anxiety, making it one of the most common mental disorders among children. 

Here are some guidelines on a few of childhood’s most common anxiety disorders. Learn how to help your young one through minor worries—and how to spot signs that more help may be needed:

Separation Anxiety

From around age 8 months to 2 years, separation anxiety is part of normal development. For instance, your toddler may ask to sleep in your bed, or may become distressed when you leave them with another caregiver—especially in new and unfamiliar situations.

Red flags:

  • Intense distress when separated from an important caregiver—usually a parent. The child may cry or plead for the parent to stay.

  • When separated, the child may focus on seeing the parent again or worry that something has happened to them.

How you can help:Keep goodbyes brief, upbeat, and matter-of-fact. Create a ritual your child can depend on. Say when you’ll be back and keep your promise. Try to use the same, familiar babysitter. Children usually find it easier to accept a separation when it is part of a normal routine.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Occasional worry and fears are normal for teens and children. But those with generalized anxiety disorder may have a hard time controlling these fears and staying focused on everyday tasks.

Red flags: Excessive worry, fear, and dread, usually related to performance, such as doing well in school or sports, or catastrophes, such as natural disasters

How you can help:Help your child stick with a healthy sleep schedule, eat nutritious meals, and get physical activity. Practice a tension-taming activity your child can use when anxiety rises, such as calm breathing.

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety typically starts in kids and teens who are extremely shy. But this anxiety disorder is more than shyness: It is an intense fear of being judged by others that can affect school and other daily activities.

Red flags:

  • Extreme worry before social events

  • Throwing tantrums or complaining of physical symptoms, like stomachaches, to avoid going to school or other activities

  • Trouble making and keeping friends

How you can help: Understand that behind your child’s behavior are big fears about doing or saying the wrong thing in front of others, especially friends and classmates. Be understanding, but also firm—don’t allow your child to skip important activities like school due to social anxiety.

Talk with your child’s pediatrician if your child is restless, irritable, or has trouble sleeping or concentrating as a result of anxiety. Your pediatrician may recommend seeing a mental health specialist, such as a child psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor. Cognitive therapy to learn new ways of thinking and coping, relaxation techniques, and, sometimes, anti-anxiety medications can all help. 

© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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