Anxiety and Children
Anxiety is a normal experience that serves protective functions throughout a person’s development. However, sometimes the anxiety in anticipation of or in response to a situation is consistently exaggerated and may interfere with functioning or cause significant distress. We expect to find a certain level of fear and anxiety in children; however, anxiety disorders in children are different from normal childhood fears in that they tend to be more intense and maladaptive, and they tend to last longer. Most childhood fears are usually not very serious, they vary by age, and they don’t last long.
Anxiety disorders are some of the most frequent childhood and adolescent disorders, occurring in about 20% of children and adolescents during any stage of their development. Some children may continue to experience anxiety disorders into adulthood. Children with any anxiety disorder may experience excessive anxiety that causes distress and interferes with normal functioning; however, the differences among anxiety disorders center around the feared situation itself and the anxiety reaction produced by it. For example, in the context of social anxiety disorder in children, the fear focuses on being judged in social situations; whereas the anxiety in obsessive-compulsive disorder in children is a product of obsessions, which are generally unpleasant thoughts, images, or impulses that are repeated frequently and seem uncontrollable. Compulsions are carried out in an effort to avoid or decrease the anxiety produced by obsessions and they are physical or mental acts that are repeated a given number of times or until the anxiety subsides (Please see the section on OCD symptoms for further detail).
Symptoms of anxiety disorders, including OCD, in children usually manifest in the same way as in adults, sometimes with minor variations. You can find detailed descriptions of the different anxiety disorders, including information about symptoms and treatment, in the corresponding sections.