A brief definition of childhood anxiety and the prevalence of childhood anxiety was introduced in part 1 of this three-part mini-blog series. In part 2, the topic of childhood anxiety is continued with a description of the common categories of childhood anxiety.
There are six categories of anxiety disorders that children may experience. Often children will experience symptoms from more than one anxiety disorder. The six categories:
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation anxiety is an excessive fear experienced when separated from home or parents. Anxiety symptoms are usually heightened before or during attempts at separation. Children may express excessive worry about their own or their parents’ safety and health when separated. Some symptoms can include difficulty sleeping alone, nightmares with themes of separation, body health complaints (e.g., headache, stomach ache), and refusing to attend school.
A phobia is a fear of a particular object (e.g., spiders, dogs) or situation (e.g., heights, thunder) which is avoided or endured with great distress. Often children will have more than one phobia. While teenagers might recognize that a fear is unreasonable, younger children often do not.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety is a feeling of fear or discomfort in one or more social settings (e.g., meeting new people) or performance situations (e.g., sports, school). Social anxiety is associated with a fear of being judged or of doing something embarrassing in a social setting. Social anxiety lessens when the child removes themselves from the social situation. It has been suggested that selective mutism (i.e., failure to speak in specific social situations) may be a specific type of social anxiety as 90% of children with selective mutism have been shown to experience social anxiety.
Panic disorder refers to experiencing recurrent episodes of intense fear that occur unexpectedly. These periods of panic can be triggered by an internal thought or feeling or by some external object, event, or situation but the panic may also occur without a trigger. Often the child will experience an intense fear of death or going crazy.
Agoraphobia occurs when the child fears and often avoids places or situations that might cause him or her to panic or feel trapped, helpless, or embarrassed. The fear occurs in two or more of the following situations: public transportation, open spaces, enclosed spaces, standing in line or being in a crowd, or being outside of the home alone.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety involves an excessive or constant worry about things such as grades, family issues, relationships with peers, and school or sports performance. Children affected by generalized anxiety are often perfectionistic, constantly seeking reassurance, and struggling more than what is evident to others around them. There is a constant worry that is not limited to a specific situation or object.
This three-part mini-blog series continues. Part 3 highlights the typical symptoms of childhood anxiety and the questions parents should ask to determine if their child may need professional assistance.
Dr. Stephen Rochefort is a registered psychologist in the province of Alberta. For more information on this or any other forensic or clinical psychology topic, contact Dr. Stephen by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (403.986.1044).