Child Anxiety is PREVENTABLE and TREATABLE. Anxiety is not a "forever" diagnosis!
Read on to learn about anxiety disorders that are most often diagnosed in childhood and early adolescence.
What types of anxiety disorders are more likely to occur in childhood?
Anxiety impacts people of all ages and it doesn't always look the same in children as it does in adults. There are certain anxiety disorders that are more likely to "show up" in childhood than others, and many of these are correlated with an increased risk for adult anxiety disorders. The thing is, regardless of what type of anxiety disorder a child has, the best available research all points to the same treatments for anxiety- cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy with parent involvement. By changing our relationship to our child's anxiety, leaning into discomfort and uncertainty, and gradually retraining the "worry brain", we can treat and prevent anxiety. If you think your child might have an anxiety disorder, please seek professional medical consultation.
Below are three of the most common anxiety disorders in childhood and their average age of onset. This information about average age of onset is from a 2016 meta-analysis (a summary of lots of other studies).
Separation Anxiety Disorder - Ages 5-15
Children who have been diagnosed with Separation Anxiety Disorder often experience their first symptoms between the ages of 5-15. Some anxiety regarding separation from caregivers and parents is normal; but when the separation anxiety starts to impact a child's ability to participate in developmentally appropriate activities, like taking a shower alone or being alone in their bedroom at night, it may be a good idea to seek professional consultation from a medical or mental health professional.
Specific Phobias - ages 6-14
Children who have been diagnosed with Specific Phobias often experienced their first symptoms between the ages 6-14. Phobias or fears are specific things, objects, experiences, situations, or events (aka, stimulus) that a child is afraid of that result in an unreasonable response to the identified stimulus. Some fear is normal and healthy. Many children with Specific Phobias are actually afraid of the same things as their peers who do not have Phobias. The difference for the child with Specific Phobias is in their response to and preoccupation with the phobia-- it is extreme. Phobias are the fear response on overdrive. It's common for children with Specific Phobias to have multiple phobias. For example, a child might be afraid of dogs and thunderstorms. Phobias impair a child and family's functioning, and occur most every time a child faces (or maybe even just thinks about) the specific fear. The reactions range from mild to severe, but the trigger (or phobia) remains consistent. It's normal to worry about the monsters under your bed. Phobias, however, often produce a dramatic fear-response in a child's brain and body that can be physically and emotionally exhausting.
Social Anxiety Disorder (Ages 13-15)
The average age of onset of Social Anxiety Disorder (used to be named "Social Phobia") is between 13-15 years old. This coincides with the time in a teenagers' life when they begin to have more opportunities for independence, and often with the transition to high school settings. Teens who struggle with generalized Social Anxiety Disorder might sweat or experience rapid heart rate when they have to talk to adults, have difficulty concentrating in large groups, or actively avoid social gatherings due to their anxieties. The key in determining whether your child meets the criteria for a diagnosis is often related to frequency, severity, and impairment. How often does it happen, how long has it been going on, and how much of an impact is it having on your life? A teen who struggles with a Performance-based Social Anxiety may struggle ONLY with taking tests in classrooms or public speaking, for example; but otherwise they are able to function without impairment or disruption to their daily life. Social Anxiety is easy to miss, as many teens struggle with the transition from middle school to high school and some nervousness is to be expected. However, it's important to identify signs of Social Anxiety Disorder early. This, like all other anxiety disorders, is both treatable and preventable! It's not a forever diagnosis! If left untreated, however, Social Anxiety Disorder has been associated with increased risks for substance use and eating disorders in adolescence and early adulthood.
If you're worried about yours, your child's, or someone else's worry, panic, avoidance, lack of confidence, or fears, please seek consultation from a mental health professional. Also, anxiety can be so painful at time that people also experience thoughts of suicide. If you're ever worried that a person may be having thoughts of suicide, please ask the question! "Hey, I noticed you've been sad/down/on your own/etc... recently, I'm wondering if you're having any thoughts of suicide?" If they answer yes, listen to them, be compassionate, help them get connected to a professional for ongoing support, and call the Care Crisis Line together at 1-800-273-8255. If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, call the Care Crisis line at 1-800-273-8255, text "hello" to 741741, or use the chat-based online service at: https://imhurting.org/
Disclaimer. This information is educational only. it is not a substitute for professional, medical, or mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. please seek support from a qualified medical or mental health professional.
IF YOU'RE LOCATED IN WHATCOM COUNTY AND SEEKING ANXIETY COUNSELING FOR YOUR CHILD OR TEEN, CONTACT TAMMY DEE TO REQUEST A PHONE CONSULTATION. Tammy Dee specializes in child and teen mental health care, and has built a practice in Bellingham, Whatcom County focused on helping anxious children, parents, teens, and young adults learn strategies to face their fears and trade worry for courage.
Tammy Dee, MSW.