All children have worries and fears from time to time. Whether it's the monster in the closet, the big test at the end of the week, or making the cut for the soccer team, kids have things that make them anxious, just like adults.
But sometimes anxiety in children crosses the line from normal everyday worries to a disorder that gets in the way of the things they need to do. It can even keep them from enjoying life as they should.
How can you tell if your child's anxieties might be more than just passing worries and fears? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Is she expressing worry or showing anxiety on most days, for weeks at a time?
Does he have trouble sleeping at night? If you aren't sure (he might not tell you), do you notice that he seems unusually sleepy or tired during the day?
Is she having trouble concentrating?
Does he seem unusually irritable or easy to upset?
There are several different types of anxiety disorders that can affect children. The most common include:
Remember the old Peanuts cartoon in which Lucy asks Charlie Brown if he has "pantophobia?" When she explains that pantophobia is "the fear of everything," Charlie Brown yells, "That's it!"
GAD is a bit like Charlie Brown's pantophobia. Children with GAD worry excessively about lots of things: school, their own safety and health, the health of family members and friends, money, and their family's security. The list can go on and on. A child with GAD may always imagine the worst possible thing that could happen.
Kids with GAD may experience physical symptoms because of these worries, like headaches and stomachaches. Your child may also isolate herself, avoiding school and friends because she is so overwhelmed by her worries.
A panic attack is a sudden, intense episode of anxiety with no apparent outside cause. Your child's heart pounds, and he or she may feel short of breath. Your child may tremble or feel dizzy or numb.
When your child has had two or more of these episodes, and is preoccupied with worries about them happening again, it is considered panic disorder.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
All children have some level of separation anxiety. It's a normal phase of development in babies and toddlers. Even older children may get clingy with their parents or caregivers occasionally, especially in new settings.
But older children who get unusually upset when leaving a parent or someone else close to them, who have trouble calming down after saying goodbye, or who get extremely homesick and upset when away from home at school, camp, or play dates, may have separation anxiety disorder.