Children and adolescents today are bombarded with information, choices, and parental and social pressures to be something that society sees as “success”. It is no wonder that anxiety disorders have become one of the most common mental health problems in children and adolescents. While teens to adults may experience occasional moments of anxiousness or worry about the future (which is normal), consistent anxiety in children can be a debilitating psychological condition that causes them to feel chronic, uncontrollable worrying over an extended period of time.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder involves excessive apprehension about a variety of situations on most days. Generalized anxiety disorder (also known as GAD) affects approximately 3 to 4 percent of children. There are several types of other anxiety disorders:
- Social anxiety – fear of meeting new people or of embarrassing oneself in social situations.
- Specific phobia – fear of objects such as spiders, snakes, etc. or of situations like public speaking or air travel.
- Separation anxiety disorder – fear of separating from home or from a primary caregiver.
- Panic disorder – unpredictable and repeated panic attacks unrelated to surrounding circumstances.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder – uncontrollable, repetitive, thoughts and fears, often accompanied by repetitive behaviors intended to prevent the fears from being realized.
- Mutism is a persistent failure to speak in specific social situations (despite being physical ability to speak in other situations).
There are complex genetic and environmental factors involved in any anxiety disorder and it is possible for a person to have more than one anxiety disorder.
At home, children with GAD may have a combination of the below symptoms.
- Six months or more of excessive worry and anxiety. Children may worry about school tasks and relationships, being on time, and following rules. These children tend to worry about receiving approval from parents and/or teachers.
- Frequent self-doubting and or self-critical comments
- Inability to stop the worry despite parental reassurance.
- Physical problems including headaches, stomach aches, tiredness, and muscle tensions.
- Persistent anxiety, chronic restlessness, difficulty focusing or relaxing (ADD/ADHD has similar symptoms as GAD and ADD/ADHD is often diagnosed before GAD is even looked into).
- Irritability, which often increases with excessive worrying.
- Sleeping problems may include waking up early, feeling tired, or trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
- Use of alcohol or drugs as a way to reduce anxiety.
- Depression or thoughts of not wanting to be alive in some situations, children believe there is no hope of stopping their fears or worry.
At school, a child with GAD may have a combination of the below symptoms.
- Excessive worry and anxiety about what others think and of school performance.
- Repeatedly seeking their teachers’ approval.
- Constant inability to explain or appropriately express worries or fears.
- Inability to stop the worry.
- Difficulty transitioning from home to school. Children bring problems from home to school (long and tearful morning drop-offs, or tearful episodes at school).
- Refusal or reluctance to attend school. A child may insist on staying at home (repeatedly faking an illness).
- Avoidance of academic and peer activities.
- Self-criticism and low self-esteem (a child will make negative comments about self)
- Difficulties concentrating due to persistent worry, which may affect a variety of school activities such as following directions or paying attention.
- Other conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may also be present, compounding learning difficulties.
- Other anxiety disorders, such as social phobia, separation anxiety, or panic disorder. Anxiety disorders.
- Learning disorders may co-exist, if the child still has academic difficulty after symptoms are treated, a learning disorder should be considered. A child’s repeated reluctance to attend school may be an indicator of an undiagnosed learning disability.
- Medication side effects. Medications may have mental, behavioral effects or physically uncomfortable side effects that interfere with school performance.
GAD is treatable. These treatments include counseling, medications, and interventions at home and at school to reduce the source stress for the child. Open communication between a child’s family, school officials, and counseling professionals optimizes the care and quality of life for the child with anxiety.
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