Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental disorders witnessed among children and adolescents. Around one in ten children suffers from anxiety to such a degree that it impacts and disturbs the child’s development. Regardless of age, anxiety can be seen in all its forms. Children can suffer from the same forms of anxiety as adults (see Anxiety, Panic disorder, Phobias, Social Anxiety Disorder and OCD).
What does anxiety look like in children and adolescents?
Anxiety may be overlooked in many children because children suffering from anxiety are often well-behaved and have a quiet disposition. In these situations, parents often have the best insight into the child’s challenges. It can be very inhibiting for the child to suffer from anxiety. For instance, some children begin to avoid activities that other children find fun and exciting. This could be playdates, birthday parties, spending the night at a friend’s or going on school trips. The child might also wish to avoid necessary activities such as presentations in front of the class, talking to non-familiar adults, doctor visits, receiving vaccinations or be around certain animals.
If the child suffers from anxiety, the anxiety provoking situations (or the thought of being there) will typically trigger a number of the general anxiety symptoms.
Treatment of children with anxiety
The treatment for children and adults follows the same general principles. The elements of the treatment consist of psychoeducation, exposure, elimination of safety behaviours and response inhibition. The difference is that the treatment always gets adjusted to the age of the child so that the terminology, tasks and explanations fit the child’s level of understanding. Furthermore, the parents are included in the treatment to get an understanding of their child’s anxiety as well as help the child complete homework.
Treatment of children under 7 years
It can be challenging for the child to see a psychologist. The situation might be intimidating, or it may be difficult for the child to concentrate for a full session. The psychoeducation might also be a bit too complicated for younger children. For these reasons, if the child is under 7 years old, we typically work through the parents. This means that the parents consult the therapist and implement the tasks with the child at home.