What Is Anxiety And How Can It Affect A Child?

Anxiety, for most people, is a transient emotion just like fear, excitement and guilt.

Anxiety, for most people, is a transient emotion just like fear, excitement and guilt. A person may feel anxious about a particular event or confrontation for example. It can be a very normal and everyday emotion for a lot of people.

An anxiety disorder, however, can cripple a person and really affect their day to day living. It often goes hand in hand with extreme worry and fear. It affects a person’s behaviour, sleep and appetite. It is a mental health disorder which requires the same help and attention as a physical disorder.

Anxiety disorders can certainly affect young children and teenagers. In some cases, it may be mild but in a number of other cases, the symptoms are very extreme and debilitating.
If a child is diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder it is very likely that the child in question experiences extreme worry every single day. The worry can vary in topic and intensity but tends to thread their everyday life.

It is normal for a child or teenager to experience worry. They may have a big test looming or a life change such as a house move or starting a new school. A child that has a generalised anxiety disorder will worry on a much greater level though. They will worry about all of the “regular” things that their pals worry about but on top of this comes a host of worries which you might not expect a child to even consider.
They may have intense worries about the weather, the future and their own safety for example. These thoughts can often erupt out of the blue and seem completely random and unrelated to what is going on in their lives.

Having a generalised anxiety disorder can affect a child’s experience of basic everyday life such as schooling and sleep. Throughout the day there is usually always some kind of worry affecting them. They may struggle with parts of the day such as lunch-time or they may reject play-dates or birthday parties due to the fear and worry that they associate them with.
This worry can affect a child’s ability to have fun and can often lead to sickness due to the way it affects their diet, sleep and breathing.

In some cases, an anxiety disorder may be temporary. Many parents have experienced separation anxiety when the time came to spend some time away from their child. This is quite common when a parent goes back to work after maternity leave or when a young child starts at school. This usually passes. In cases where it does not pass it may be deemed to be a separation anxiety disorder.
It can intensify as children get older and may prevent them from wanting to attend school, play dates or other activities which “should” be fun for them.

In some cases, anxiety may be linked to a child’s very specific fear of a specific thing. It may be a particular animal or people in costumes for example.

In many cases, anxiety can be spotted by a parent or teacher of the child. It can be invisible in many ways but it can affect a child’s body language or their ability to speak. They may be feeling jittery or very distracted on a number of occasions which may cause concern.

An anxiety disorder should be treated in a serious way as it can have a great impact on a child and indeed the adult that they will become. In some cases, therapies such as CBT can be extremely helpful. It can teach a child to face their fears in a way that helps them to dissolve. The coping skills that they learn will benefit them now and in the future.

If you suspect your child is experiencing anxiety it is a good idea to speak to them directly and to raise the issue with the family GP and the child’s teacher.

Tracey is a happy mammy to four-year-old Billy. She is a breastfeeder, gentle parent and has recently lost five stone so healthy family eating is her passion! You can find her at www.loveofliving.ie.

Tracey Quinn

Proud mum of two who got married on Don't Tell The Bride and had an accidental home-birth (loves a good story). She's passionate about breastfeeding, positive thinking & all things cosy.

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