Like other child syndromes such as stomach migraines, anxiety in children may present with different symptoms. When the first attack occurs, the child may be in school, at home, or even playing.
They may feel a general sense of unease and may start worrying about everyday activities such as school, baseball or soccer. Unfortunately, with the atmosphere in school and the internet today, you must make sure that your child is not the victim of bullying. Often times this is the underlying cause of a sudden onset of anxiety and fear of school.
The following are symptoms of anxiety attacks in children:
- Difficulty adjusting to situations in school
- Repeated school absences
- Low self esteem
- Poor relationships with other children
- Excessive worry out of proportion to situations
- Dwelling on a subject for a long period of time
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Children and teens with this have unrealistic worry about everyday activities. They seem to need constant support and reassurance as they worry about academic performace and sports. They typically have physical symptoms like stomach pain when nothing physically is wrong.
Panic Disorder: Repeated panic attacks that occur with out an apparent cause for the panic are signs of a panic disorder. Panic attacks may occur suddenly over a period of a few minutes and subside as quickly. These are periods of intense fear with a pounding heart, sweating, nausea, and a fear of imminent death. Children with this will go to great lengths to avoid the situations causing the panic and may appear to cling to their parents.
Phobias: Phobias are unrealistic or excessive fears about a situation or an object. They can be quite specific and may involve animals, water, heights or even fear of enclosed spaces. Social phobia is a fear of being criticized in a social situation and again children will go to great lengths to avoid these objects and situations. An example is if your child suddenly starts to panic at the thought of going to a swimming lesson.
Separation Anxiety: Children with this disorder have great difficulty leaving their parents. While a little of this is normal when they first go off to day care or school, if severe it is accompanied by nausea, sleeplessness and a fear that a parent may die.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: With OCD as it is called, the child or teen becomes trapped in repetative behaviors and thoughts. They may recognize that this is abnormal but they cannot stop. Typical behaviors are hand washing, counting, arranging objects and checking light switches. I have also seen excessive picking at fingernails and if it gets to the point of finger damage this is a big sign that the child needs help.
Post Traumatic Stress: Post traumatic stress can occur after a severely stressful event such as physical or sexual abuse, witnessing violence or living though a disaster such as a tornado. Symptoms include an exagerated startle response, difficulty sleeping, repetative dreams, nightmares and thoughts, and also flashbacks. An example of this is the events of Sept 11, 2011. Even if a child did not know someone who died that day, kids and teens who watched the events over and over on TV started to show symptoms of anxiety attacks in children.
What Can I Do As A Parent?
- Talk with your child's provider and tell them the symptoms.
- Look for a mental health professional who specializes in children or adolescents.
- Encourage your child to participate in counseling and take medication if necessary.
- Ask questions of your provider about treatments and services.
- Find family network organizations.
- Start your child on a regular exercise program which can reduce anxiety attacks in children
Remember, the brain is an organ like any other in your body and as such can have disorders that can be corrected. Anxiety attacks in children and teens can be managed though counseling, lifestyle changes and medications.
Read more about causes of anxiety attacks.