By: Dr. Janice Montague
Lately, we hear the word anxiety quite often. Understandably so, but what exactly does anxiety mean in children and how do we recognize it? The medical definition of anxiety is an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it. I like to say it is an abnormal reaction to a real or suspected threat that may or may not be accompanied by physical symptoms but is always manifested in the child’s behaviors.
Anxiety looks different in early childhood than it does in later childhood. An anxious toddler may be extra clingy, cry with strangers more or continue to fear situations that he has been repeatedly exposed to. You may notice regression in development, stomach aches, being easily startled, and other physical symptoms like sleep refusal or sleep changes, changes in daily behavior, and eating issues.
In later childhood, anxiety is a bit easier to notice since they can talk and may say “I’m nervous”, but usually it isn’t that straightforward. Many kids will be moody, lose interest in ones favorite activities, be impulsive, have difficulty concentrating, and suffer from separation anxiety. Common physical symptoms are loss of appetite, stomach aches, nausea, dizziness, and headaches. Often school-aged children are noted to have attentional issues and diagnosed with attention deficit disorder or get evaluated for this. It can be difficult to spot childhood anxiety, but it affects 30% of kids. Boys are more affected early in the school-age years while girls are more affected later on.
If you suspect any anxiety issues with your child reach out to your pediatrician. We are trained to spot anxiety and help you and your family find resources and help. Some doctors are comfortable treating this themselves and some will refer out or do a combination of things. While it’s always important to get a physical check-up yearly it is also important to get an emotional check-in as well. Anxiety is treatable and common so let us help you help your child to fulfill his best potential.