Kids are not immune to stress and anxiety and as a parent it is important to be able to recognize any potential child anxiety problems to be able to take care of it as early as possible. Some of the different anxiety disorders that affect children are listed below.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
A lot of kids get a touch of separation anxiety, normally between about one and a half and three years of age. Children get anxious when their parent is out of sight and usually ends up shadowing mom or dad, but can usually be distracted by an interesting activity or object. Kids going to daycare will start crying and throwing a fit when they are left there, but will usually stop after getting involved in activities.
By four years old, a child is usually able to be left somewhere without their parents (with another adult, I know what you were thinking!), but if the fits and crying, clinging and anxiety continue, the problem could be separation anxiety disorder. This disorder hits about 4% of the population.
Separation Anxiety Disorder produces an extreme anxiety in children when they are away from home or away from their parents (or primary caregiver). The feelings and need have contact with their parents goes to excess with being so homesick that they feel absolutely miserable. Often these children will have unreasonable fear about the health and safety of their parents.
Signs of Separation Anxiety
Some of the things you may notice a child with Separation Anxiety display are:
Try to avoid going places by themselves
Refuse to go to school or camp
Be reluctant or refuse to participate in sleepovers
Follow a parent around
Demand that someone stay with them at bedtime or show up in their parent’s bedroom during the night
Having nightmares about being separated from loved ones
Separation Anxiety can start at almost any age before your child hits 18 year old, but will most commonly affect kids between seven and nine years of age. Problems with separation that you notice starting to become excessive from around 4 years old on up, is something to discuss with your child’s doctor and could be Separation Anxiety Disorder.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
This is another anxiety related disorder that can occur in children as well as adults. People with OCD have persistent, reoccurring thoughts or obsessions, about unfounded and exaggerated fears. These obsessions of fear can be about almost anything, but will typically involve being contaminated, behaving improperly, or being violent. These fears usually lead to doing repetitive rituals or routines, called compulsions, such as repeated hand washing, counting, repeating phrases and hoarding and is an attempt to deal with the fear and anxiety.
This childhood Anxiety Disorder is thought to be a severe symptom of Social Anxiety Disorder, but is described in children as having Selective Mutism. This is when a child refuses to speak, even though the situation calls for speaking and is to the extent that it is affecting friendships and interfering with learning at school.
Selective Mutism usually starts before the age of five, but usually comes to attention when the child starts school. Kids are usually diagnosed between the ages of four and eight years, although there has most likely been a history of being really shy for quite a while.
These kids are not completely mute and will be very talkative in situations where they feel comfortable, such as home. The symptoms come out when the anxiety sets in. To be diagnosed as Selective Mutism, symptoms must have been going on for at least one month.
Signs of Selective Mutism
Some of the things you may see with a child suffering from Selective Mutism are:
Stand motionless and expressionless, chew or twirl hair, avoid eye contact, or withdraw into a corner
Become anxious before entering an uncomfortable situation, common symptoms of anxiety before social events include stomachaches, headaches, and other physical ailments
Display additional signs of severe anxiety: separation anxiety, frequent tantrums and crying, moodiness, inflexibility, sleep problems, and extreme shyness. These can show up as early as infancy
If you see your child doing these types of things over a period of time (at least one month), then start taking down some who, what, where, and when notes that you can take with you to see your child’s doctor and discuss your observations and feeling about your child with the doctor. And remember, if your doctor tells you it is just a stage, but you aren’t sure you agree with that, you can, and should, get a second opinion.