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Anxiety in children and adolescents

On this page: Anxiety in children and adolescents | What is the impact of anxiety in children and adolescents? | How does anxiety develop? | How anxiety typically presents in children and adolescents | How can a psychologist help?

Anxiety is a common problem in children and adolescents. Although some amount of anxiety is normal in children and adolescents, too much can become a problem. Research suggests that anxiety disorders, and other psychological problems, in children and adolescents are not as well detected as in adults.

Common types of anxiety disorders in children and adolescents include phobias, school refusal and separation anxiety, social phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder and panic disorder (more common in adolescents). Children and adolescents exposed to trauma can also develop post traumatic stress reactions and disorders.

What is the impact of anxiety in children and adolescents?

Like adults, anxiety has a significant impact on a children or adolescent’s life. Anxiety can interfere with school performance, friendships, socialising and a child’s general ability to explore and participate in activities around them.

Many young people who develop anxiety problems can become quite depressed about their problems and may go on to develop a depressive disorder.

How does anxiety develop?

Anxiety disorders often develop from a combination of factors. Factors that can contribute to an anxiety disorder include a child’s genetic and developmental make-up, how parents and significant others model coping with fear and anxiety, the environment a child exists within, parenting style, trauma, bullying at school and grief. There are often stages in a child’s development that also make them susceptible to developing an anxiety disorder if something else challenges them at that stage.

How anxiety typically presents in children and adolescents

Anxiety symptoms can be physical, emotional or behavioural:

  • Physical symptoms can include stomach aches, eating disturbances, tiredness, breathing problems, headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting and heart palpitations.
  • Emotional symptoms include expressing fears, worries, low self esteem, sadness, guilt, anger and expressing despair or helplessness.
  • Behavioural symptoms include sleep disturbances, withdrawal, restlessness, inattentiveness, poor school performance, avoidance (not wanting to go out or go to school), being easily scared or startled, and aggression.

How can a psychologist help?

Psychologists can work with children and adolescents to help them express their worries and develop strategies for managing their worry. Psychologists also work with parents of children to help them learn how to understand and manage their child’s anxiety.

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