Introduction to anxiety disorders
Many children have fears and worries and may feel sad and hopeless from time to time. Strong fears may appear at different times during development.
For example, toddlers are often very distressed about being away from their parents, even if they are safe and cared for. Although some fears and worries are typical in children, persistent or extreme forms of fear and sadness could be due to anxiety or depression.
When children do not outgrow the fears and worries that are typical in young children, or when there are so many fears and worries that they interfere with school, home, or play activities, the child may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
Unremitting anxiety lasting for weeks or months at a time can cause physical distress in the form of headaches, stomach aches, nausea, vomiting and sleeplessness, difficulty sleeping, reluctance to go to school or elsewhere outside of the child’s comfort zone, crying, tantrums and clinginess are common.
Anxiety can also interfere with a child’s concentration and decision-making. An anxious child’s thinking is typically unrealistic, catastrophic and pessimistic. They may seek excessive reassurance and yet the benefit of that reassurance is fleeting.
Irritability and anger can also be red flags for anxiety when a child becomes frustrated by the stress of worry or worn down from sleep deprivation. For some children, feeling “different” from other children can be an additional source of concern.
© University of East Anglia