Anxiety and Children: Symptoms, Causes of Childhood Anxiety
Anxiety in children is a normal part of life, just like it is in adulthood. When a child is frightened, for example by a scary movie, they may have trouble getting to sleep. However, when anxiety cannot be comforted and is out of proportion with the given situation that can be a sign of an anxiety disorder in children.
Childhood anxiety occurs in about one-in-four children at sometime between the ages of 13 and 18. However, the lifetime prevalence of a severe anxiety disorder in children 13-18 is about 6%.1 Left untreated, anxiety in children can cause problems in school, at home and with peers as well as continue into adulthood.
Here are detailed articles on the different types of childhood anxiety.
- School Anxiety in Children: Signs, Causes, Treatments
- Test Anxiety in Children
- The Shy Child: Overcoming Shyness in Children
- Social Anxiety in Children: Helping Children with Social Phobia
While the causes of anxiety in children are not fully understood, some studies have shown that the brain of a child with anxiety behaves differently than that of an average child.
With treatment, kids with anxiety can learn to live full and happy childhoods. Unfortunately, only 18% of teens with anxiety get treatment.2
Anxiety Disorders in Children
Children can have any anxiety disorder an adult can have although some are more common than others. Childhood anxiety symptoms commonly appear around the age of six. Anxiety disorders that tend to start under the age of 20 include:
- Separation anxiety disorder – only occurs in those under 18; involves unreasonable anxiety over separation from a person to whom the child is attached.
- Simple phobia – average onset at 8 years old
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder – thought to be present in 2%-3% of children
Children's anxiety can also take the form of generalized anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, social phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder although on average, these tend to develop after the age of 20.
Children with anxiety commonly have more than one mental illness. For example, depression and anxiety disorders often occur together. And 70% of children with specific phobias have another form of anxiety disorder as well.3
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety in Children
When a child has an anxiety disorder, it often affects all aspects of their life. Symptoms of anxiety in children can be seen in the way a child acts at home, school and in their social life.
Signs of anxiety in children are specific to the type of anxiety disorder; however, general symptoms of anxiety in children include:4
- Excessive anxiety and worry
- Inability to control fear or worry
- Poor concentration
- Sleep disruption
- Muscle tension
Last Updated: 29 June 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD