Parents, teachers, and pediatricians can easily overlook anxiety disorders in children. Anxiety often reveals itself differently in children than in adults, making it more difficult to diagnose. If you suspect your child might be suffering from an anxiety disorder, discuss it with your pediatrician. With help, children can learn how to successfully manage their symptoms and live normal childhoods.
Symptoms of Anxiety in Children
Anxiety is a form of stress that manifests itself physically and emotionally. In children with anxiety, physical symptoms tend to be more noticeable because they don’t know how to describe emotional states. Physical symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
Emotional symptoms of anxiety in children can include:
- Excessive worrying
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Children with generalized anxiety disorder have an impending sense of dread and worry about all aspects of life. Many parents assume their child is a natural worry wort and don’t address symptoms until they become physical. This is the most common type of childhood anxiety and can develop into more specific diagnoses if left untreated.
Phobias are notoriously difficult to diagnose in children, as levels of fear about certain subjects are normal. For example, if a child has never been around dogs, they may show fear when one comes near. This alone does not translate into a phobia. Health care workers are more likely to diagnose phobias during adolescence when teenagers can properly explain what terrifies them.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Children who have experienced trauma or abuse in their lives can suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For children, trauma can come from natural disasters, car accidents, and other distressing events. Physical or sexual abuse can also lead to PTSD, but if children are harboring secret abuses, adults will have a much harder time pinpointing the cause. PTSD symptoms become evident in the form of nightmares, flashbacks, and being easily startled.
Diagnosing Anxiety in Children
Experts don’t always understand what causes childhood anxiety disorders unless there is an obvious trauma in the child’s life. If your child is experiencing any symptoms of anxiety, discuss your concerns with a pediatrician. Anxiety disorders can present themselves in different behaviors and emotional states, so seek the help of a professional. Your pediatrician can perform a complete evaluation to determine if your child is suffering from anxiety or normal childhood fears. The pediatrician may refer you to a mental health professional specializing in the field of pediatric anxiety disorders.