Childhood is often remembered fondly by most adults but fear and anxiety is typically experienced by children at one time or another. This fear manifests itself when it’s time to start a new school for example,or during the taking of a test.
These fears are perfectly normal and do not usually go on to become irrational or develop into a panic disorder. But there are some situations in which some children who are more vulnerable cannot cope and so show signs of developing a panic disorder..
While we would all like to protect our children as much as possible from the harsher side of life, this is not always possible. Children can develop the same panic disorders that are seen in adults. These may become apparent when a child worries excessively about everyday events. They may judge themselves harshly or become perfectionists and redo tasks until they get them perfect. Children who constantly seek approval are at risk of developing anxiety disorders.
Another type of anxiety disorder seen in children in obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. OCD’s are characterized by unwanted thoughts or obsessions that take root in the mind.
These can be seen in children as young as two but the average age a child is usually diagnosed with an OCD is ten. Children may repeatedly perform ritualistic behaviors and routines with the goal of easing their anxiety. These behaviors manifest themselves in the same way as adults such as excessive hand washing, constant rechecking or counting in order to ward off unwelcome thoughts or feeling absolute terror at the thought of doing something wrong accidentally.
Panic disorders are a further type of anxiety disorder which may be seen in children but usually not until adolescence. If a child suffers two panic attacks and is then anxious about having another, then a panic disorder is usually diagnosed.
Phobias also have a place in this discussion of childhood anxiety disorders. Irrational fears of objects, places or situations that persist for at least six months and go on to affect everyday activities are indicative of a phobia.
Of course, most children are afraid of the dark or of thunderstorms but these usually go away by themselves and do not interfere with daily activities. Children who suffer from a head or stomach ache, become overly clingy or freeze when confronted with the fear are displaying the symptoms of a phobia.
Life isn’t always predictable and unfortunately bad things happen. The death of a parent, physical or mental abuse, a natural disaster or an accident can all lead to post traumatic stress disorder, another kind of anxiety disorder. The symptoms in this case are not eating or sleeping, nightmares, emotional distance or fear of the event reoccurring.
While both adults and children suffer from these anxiety disorders, the physical and mental manifestations of them can differ greatly. Adults understand at least that their fear is irrational but children do not. Nor can they always verbalize what they are going through or what they are feeling. If you suspect your child is suffering from an anxiety disorder, then you should see your pediatrician.