Anxiety Disorders in Children: Definition, New Research and Treatment Options

What are the Signs of Anxiety Disorders in Children?


Anxiety Disorders in Children usually show up in two different ways: behavior and body symptoms.Anxious children tend to have anxious thoughts anticipating danger or threats. Some are anxious about being ridiculed or bullied.Others are threatened by real or imagined fears.

This situation can manifest as fidgety, clinging behavior; it may also manifest as crying, shaking tantrums. Anxious children can have a host of body symptoms: stomachaches, headaches, diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, sweating, hyperventilation.

Anxiety disorders in children are common and treatable. Early intervention is important because anxiety issues in childhood can escalate and develop into psychiatric issues during the adult years.

What are Some Common Anxiety Disorders?

Separation Anxiety occurs when the child is fearful of being away from a primary care giver, usually the mother.Problems often surface during the child's initiation into daycare or preschool. That's when the child will complain of headaches or throw temper tantrums to avoid being separated from the mother. Most children outgrow their separation anxiety in due time. About 1 in every 25 children experience some form of separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety is not only confined to children.In adults,it is known as "agoraphobia," or fear of being separated from a safe person or home. The word "agora" is a Greek word for the marketplace and agoraphobics have traditionally been frightened of leaving home to go to the market. Adult agoraphobics suffer from adult anxiety disorder.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder(GAD) is a general tendency to be excessively worried or anxious about life. Children with this condition tend to worry about school work,speaking up in class,mingling with friends, sport performance,even their parents' safety. Some signs are restlessness,nervousness,loss of concentration, muscle tension, insomnia or broken sleep. Often the anxiety symptoms can be provoked by simply watching evening news.

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder(OCD) manifests as compulsive rituals repeated by the child for fear that something terrible would happen if he or she breaks the pattern. These obsessions usually concern neatness and organization. Children with OCD, for example, repeatedly wash their hands or organize their rooms in a particular way. They may also arrange and rearrange their rooms or belongings according to particular and specific patterns. Others may button and unbutton shirts, repeat actions two or three times. A strong sense of ritual exists in their behavior. Children as young as 5 or 6 can exhibit symptoms of OCD.

Panic Disorders and Panic Attacks are different manifestations of anxiety disorders in children. A Panic Attack is a sudden episode of intense fear lasting 10 or more minutes. During this time, victims experience extreme anxiety, perspiration, shortness of breath and fear that they are going to die or that something terrible is going to happen to them.

Panic Disorder is the fear of having panic attacks. In many ways, it is more serious than panic attacks because of its long term engagement. Anticipating anxiety is an almost daily occurrence for some children and adolescents. They will do everything they can to avoid another attack, including going to school, leaving the house or parents. Such anxiety disorders in children can have serious consequences on home and family routines. However, they are also treatable.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a reaction to an extremely stressful event such as physical or sexual abuse, car accident,natural disaster or witnessing extreme episodes of violence like those that define situations in war. Because victims tend to replay stressful events through memories or flashbacks, they become anxious and irritable. Sleep disorders develop; so does their resistance to anything that reminds them of the trauma. While many of these symptoms will disappear within weeks,children with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder of PTSD will continue to experience them for months. Their anxiety symptoms will definitely interfere with normal life routines.

New Insights from New Research

Can scientists predict who will develop anxiety disorders from childhood profiles?

According to UCLA Psychology Professor Michelle Craske, scientists will be able to make this prediction years in advance. Craske is four years into an 8 year study evaluating 650 students to identify risk factors for anxiety and depression.

What Craske and her colleagues have found is that neuroticism is a powerful predictor tool for both anxiety and depression.Neuroticism is the predisposition towards negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, guilt, sadness or anger.

Craske's research suggests that teenagers who are high on the neuroticism scale usually become unnecessarily anxious,suggesting that their anxiety is out of proportion with the actual threat.The teens' neurotic response may represent a failure to distinguish between real and potential threats.

Response of this kind can explain why neuroticism may lead to pervasive anxiety. Craske hopes that the study will reveal risk factors that predict anxiety and depression.Her team chose the 16-19 age group for study mainly because this is the age group that registers the highest surge in anxiety and mood disorders.

In a second study on 7-12 year olds, Craske and her colleagues found that children with anxious parents are 3-5 times more at risk for anxiety than non-anxious parents. Craske and her colleagues have developed new treatments for anxiety disorders in children, one of which is a computer-assisted form of cognitive behavior therapy.

More about Dr.Craske and her research can be accessed here. If your kids are driving you insane, you can get peace of mind with the Calm Kids Program. Click Here! Even environmental triggers like secondhand smoke can be the cause of anxiety in children exposed to the contaminant.

Can Chronic Insomnia lead to Anxiety and Depression?

According to a study conducted by Dag Neckelmann MD, PhD,at Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen, Norway, the answer is yes. What this study suggests is that chronic insomnia is a "marker" for predisposition to anxiety. All individuals treated for chronic sleep disturbance should be examined for the presence of stress disorders as well.

Another study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas found a two to five fold increase in personal problems among teenagers with persistent sleeplessness. What researchers found was that sleep-deprived adolescents were much more likely to have problems with drug use, depression, school work, jobs and health.

Is Anxiety Related to Memory?

New research suggests as well that stress-related disorders can be due to the brain's inability to suppress traumatic memories. In fact, Dutch researchers are working on a beta blocker that can erase the fear response induced by painful memories.

There is also a suggestion that anxiety and stress can be caused by an "over-programmed" environment in which the intrinsic freedom of the child is overwhelmed by school and extrinsic goals.

Child Attitude

Will Children Outgrow Anxiety Disorders or Should They Seek Professional Treament?

Research suggests that anxiety disorders in children should be taken seriously and that parents should seek professional treatment because untreated children usually

a) perform poorly at school

b) have repeated absences from school;

c) experience problems relating with peers and siblings

d) become alcohol or drug dependent when they grow older.

What Treatment Options Are Available for Anxiety Disorders in Children?

Recent research points to three effective treatment of anxiety disorders in children:

a) psychotherapy

b) antidepressant medication

c) a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressant medication.

While each method on its own is effective, option C which combines both psychotherapy and medication seems to be the "Gold Standard" approach.

According to a recent study involving 488 children( 7-17 years old), over a 12week period, 81% of children improved withthe combination treatment, 60 % improved with psychotherapy treatment, which in this study was cognitive behavior therapy, a specific therapy that helps children face and manage their fears.55% improved with option b, antidepressant medication. In this study, the antidepressant used was sertraline( Zoloft), a selective serotonin uptake inhibitor( SSRI). SSRIs are designed to increase serotonin levels in the brain cells.A placebo group that was used as control, 24% improved. Results of the study also show that all treatments are safe.

The fact that all three treatments are effective provides parents with options and choices. Cognitive Behavior Therapy combined with lifestyle changes can have dramatic impact on anxiety disorders in children. SSRIs are designed to increase serotonin levels in the brain cells.A placebo group that was used as control, 24% improved. Results of the study also show that all treatments are safe.

The fact that all three treatments are effective provides parents with options and choices. Cognitive Behavior Therapy combined with lifestyle changes can have dramatic impact on anxiety disorders in children.

Here are more ways to address child anxieties.

Disclaimer: The above information is meant only to inform and should never displace professional consultation.


You can help your child overcome anxiety, worries, and fears.

By ending your child's battle with anxiety, his or her whole life can move quickly in a much more positive direction and change for the better. In the next few minutes, you’re going to learn how you can help your child feel more confident, secure in body and mind, and most of all, be happy again by discovering how to shatter the anxiety, nervousness, and fear that may be holding him or her back.

Check out the Anxiety-Free Child Program.

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