It is not uncommon for children to be afraid, but you might wonder, “what could a child possibly have to worry about?”. Well, you’ll be surprised to find out that children commonly worry about school, health, and personal harm. These may be connected to worries about making friends, being liked by their peers, doing bad at school or the possibility of losing a parent. If you’re a parent with questions about the common types of anxiety in children under 10, this article is for you.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is known as the feeling of fear or worries about everyday situations such as moving to a new school, giving a presentation to a large crowd or taking an exam. Anxiety in children under 10 is normal and they can experience anxiety in stressful situations and afterwards, but the anxiety is bound to go away. However when the anxiety (that feeling of fear or worry) becomes persistent and starts to interfere with their daily life or routine, then it can be classified as a disorder.
What’s the difference between normal anxiety in children under 10 and anxiety disorders?
Children who suffer from anxiety disorders tend to worry excessively or panic frequently. But how do you distinguish between normal anxiety and clinically severe anxiety? According to John Piacentini, a child psychologist at UCLA, an easy way to tell is when the child’s occasional worries and fears start to intensify and occur daily or in close frequency. When children have anxiety disorders, they tend to withdraw from things they enjoy doing.
Anxiety disorders are more common than any other form of emotional disorder both among children and adults. Based on data collected from the National Survey of Children’s Health, researchers learned that there was a 20 percent increase in diagnoses of anxiety for children aged 6 to 17 — proving that the cases of children with serious anxiety outnumbered that of children with depression.
What this means for parents is that early detection and proper care is essential for children who might be experiencing severe anxiety —because it gets worse as they grow older. The Child Mind Institute specifically stated that “childhood anxiety is often a precursor for adult anxiety, especially for children who don’t receive treatment.” The institute also states that “80 percent of children with anxiety fail to get treatment.” In light of this information, neglect is not an option. The earlier a child’s anxiety disorder is managed, the sooner they can get on with normal life.
Common Types of Anxiety in Children Under 10
There are different types of anxiety in children and based on the intensity and frequency of the anxiety, it could advance/develop into one of these disorders;
#1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Kids with this type of anxiety disorder worry almost everyday and about a lot of things such as grades in school, performance in extracurricular activities, making friends, and family tension at home. Essentially, they tend to be tough on themselves and typically strive for perfection. They also tend to seek approval and validation more often than usual. Kids Health states that having generalized anxiety disorder makes it difficult for children to focus at school, sleep well or have fun.
#2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Although Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common type of disorder in children who are 10 years and older, it can also be experienced in children younger than 10 years according to the ADAA. Children with OCD tend to engage in specific routines when they are stressed and repeatedly performing specific routines serve as a way to suppress the anxiety. The ADAA also mentions that boys are likely to develop the disorder before puberty while girls often develop theirs during adolescence.
#3. Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder is another type of anxiety in children under 10, It is often portrayed through an intense fear of performing or participating in social settings. A child with social anxiety disorder will get anxious when asked to speak in public; either on stage or in the classroom. This hinders the child’s ability to socialize and build relationships with age mates and people in general. Many children who suffer from this may experience shortness of breath, heart racing or light headedness when they get anxious.
#4. Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation Anxiety Disorder is usually experienced by children between the ages of 18 months and 3 years. Children with this type of disorder worry about bad things happening to their parents or guardians while they’re apart.
Normally, a child might cry or feel anxious when the parent leaves a room or drops him or her at the daycare. However, when a child becomes excessively anxious if he or she has to leave home or be away from parents, then that’s a sign of separation anxiety disorder. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) points out that symptoms of separation anxiety disorder include extreme homesickness, feelings of misery when separated from loved ones, refusing to participate in peer activities like sleepovers, sports or camping.
#5. Posttraumatic stress disorder
A traumatic experience such as the death of a parent or loved one can trigger this type of disorder. PTSD, as it is often abbreviated, is characterized by an intense fear and worry after witnessing a life-threatening or traumatic experience.
Other types of anxiety in children under 10 include phobias, selective mutism and panic disorder.
How to help children with anxiety disorders
Experts advise that parents seek professional help as soon as symptoms are noticed, and add that although there is no specific cure for anxiety, there are effective strategies to help children manage and overcome anxiety at home.
- Don’t reinforce negative behaviours
When children get anxious, it tends to manifest as negative behaviours and they might act out if they believe that will help them get rid of the anxiety. Typical example is when a child starts throwing a tantrum to avoid going to school. You might want to make your child feel better at that moment by allowing him or her stay home for the day, but in the long run, you end up making things worse. Instead use love and logic.
- Teach them coping mechanisms
When children are anxious, they tend to seek reassurance and if granted, they tend to rely on that reassurance in future situations. Rather than making your children dependent on you, teach them strategies for coping on their own. You can also remind them of times when they’ve successfully managed similar situations before. Small positive steps taking on their own will serve them better than you petting them frequently.
- Communicate with your child
An open relationship with your child is important to build your child’s confidence and understanding of difficult life situations. Talk to your child about anxiety and explain to him or her that the experience is a normal feeling. Talk about thoughts, worries and fears they might be having. That way you can identify potential triggers that could lead to an anxiety disorder and take necessary preventive measures before it escalates.
- Model healthy behaviour
Kids are always watching their parents and oftentimes they’ll emulate their parents behaviour. A good way to model healthy behavior when it comes for anxious children is to verbalize how you deal with your own anxiety. For example; you can point out that “Mummy has an important meeting today and it’s giving her butterflies, but she’ll just take several deep breaths and say a quick prayer to feel better.” Children are always watching and listening so the more you verbalize and externally express how you deal with your own anxiety, the easier it’ll be for them to learn how to deal with theirs.
- Speak to a trained therapist
While you help your child face fears and cope with anxiety at home, ensure you also seek the assistance of a certified child therapist or psychologist. This becomes necessary if other strategies aren’t working effectively and especially when the anxiety starts to seriously interfere with school and home life. After you find a therapist, ensure that your child makes it to all appointments and also ask the therapist for more tips and strategies to help manage the anxiety.
The symptoms for many of these types of anxiety in children under 10 are similar and usually, only a clinical psychologist can properly diagnose an anxiety disorder and advise you on the right coping strategies. So ensure that speaking with a therapist is at the top of your list if you notice symptoms of severe anxiety in your child. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential to prevent performance drop in school and difficulty with socializing.