Anxious kid entering school

As they grow and develop, children go through as many mental and emotional changes as they do physical ones. When these changes manifest themselves in behaviors, it's often difficult to determine when it's just normal shyness and when it may be something more. If your child has a constant desire for approval, experiences physical reactions to stress at school or in social situations, becomes easily embarrassed, or seems unusually afraid at night, he or she may be experiencing childhood anxiety. Many anxiety disorders can begin during childhood and adolescence, so it's important to identify and address them early and prevent them from intruding upon your child's adult life.

Types of Childhood Anxiety
According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, a few of the most common types of anxiety experienced by children and adolescents include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): unusual level of concern or stress over family and/or friend relationships, performance in school, sports, or other activities. They often need constant approval and are perfectionists.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: strong and persistent fear or worry over social situations and/or interactions and acute stress during public or performance activities. Grades and relationships with friends can be negatively impacted.
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder: most common in children between seven to nine years old, they experience anxiety while being away from home or family members for a period of time. It affects four percent of children.
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): may exhibit anxiety, agitation, or anger and avoid going to certain places or being around certain people after experiencing a traumatic event. It can be particularly acute if the child witnessed the event, if the event involved a loved one, of if the child had previous mental and/or emotional issues.
  • Specific Phobias: acute fear of and fearful reaction to a particular object, place, occurrence, or state of being. Common examples include fear of the dark, fear of enclosed spaces, heights, water, animals, and insects.

Addressing Anxiety
Once you've begun to identify the cause of your child's anxiety, you can help them to address it in a positive and proactive way. The National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health's Bright Futures initiative suggests:

  • Prepare your child for a situation he or she is unfamiliar with. Discuss and address any concerns they might have beforehand.
  • Rehearsing or role playing new situations to help them find their comfort level.
  • Encouraging your child to participate in independent activities and reward him or her for putting in the effort.
  • Understanding that your child's anxiety might manifest itself in physical symptoms (i.e. nausea, headaches) and if that happens, trying not to overreact.
  • "Daydreaming" or not paying attention in class might be the result of your child's anxiety.
  • Reading books about the things that cause them anxiety and talking about their reactions to help them understand why they're responding in that way.
  • Having them follow a bedtime and morning routine, so they can begin and end the day with a secure and familiar feeling.
  • Limiting your child's exposure video games or television programs that cause them to react anxiously.
  • Getting your child to keep a journal, write a story, or create a picture about his or her fears and discuss the results.
  • Avoiding extremes in your interactions with your child, like being too strict or overprotective.
  • Always talking with your child about what's going on with your family, such as potential stresses from work, personal relationships, or finances.