Children often feel anxious about things that happen in their daily life. This is normal and they may not always understand why. But when anxiety begins to interfere with their daily life, it can be a sign that they have an anxiety disorder.
It’s common for kids and teens to get anxious at times – especially when they are worried about school, friends or their health. For most kids, the worry passes after a while and they are able to participate in their daily lives again. But for some, it’s a long-term problem that can make it hard to sleep, concentrate at school and enjoy the company of their friends.
While all kids and teens have anxiety, it’s important to know the difference between a temporary bout of anxiety and a longer-term problem. Kids with anxiety disorders have symptoms most days of the week and it makes it difficult for them to take part in their daily activities.
Talk to your child’s GP if they have persistent, overwhelming anxiety that affects their ability to function. The GP might recommend a talking therapy (such as cognitive behavioural therapy) or an anxiety medicine for your child. Anxiety medicines work by calming the whirling emotional centre of the brain and help kids to think clearly. They are usually only prescribed by doctors who specialise in children and young people’s mental health.
Symptoms of anxiety include worrying a lot, difficulty sleeping and feeling anxious and fearful. Some children have physical sensations that they describe as butterflies in their stomach, a pounding heart or sweating. They might also avoid situations that make them feel anxious, such as going to school or having a health check.
Sometimes it can be hard for parents to see when a child is anxious. Their tantrums and irritability might be misinterpreted as disrespectful behaviour, but this is often a response to anxiety.
Kids and teens who are unable to control their anxiety with talking therapies might be offered anxiety medicines. These are taken by mouth and come in a range of brands, such as benzodiazepines and antidepressants.
Anxiety disorders can cause lots of other problems for a child, such as depression and trouble making friends. They might be less likely to finish school or have a good relationship with their parents. They might have poor appetites or be unable to make decisions about their lives.
Some children are born more anxious than others. And some children are more prone to anxiety if they have a family history of it or if they have other conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism. They are also more likely to have anxiety if their peers do. This is because children pick up the habits of their parents and other adults around them. Getting treatment early is important because if left untreated, anxiety can become worse and last for a much longer time. This can have a negative impact on a child’s happiness, well-being and confidence in themselves.