Many parents may notice signs and symptoms that something is going on with their child, but they never really think that it could be the symptoms of general anxiety disorder or another similar condition. Children frequently suffer from anxiety disorders, but parents are unsure of the symptoms so they can’t look for ways to help them.
This can be particularly problematic for younger children who can’t necessarily verbalize what they’re feeling. Having an anxiety disorder can affect so many areas of a child’s life including school and their social development.
The following provides an overview of some of the most common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder or GAD, that occur in children and adolescents.
According to the DSM-5 criteria used to diagnose generalized anxiety disorder, there would be excessive worry that occurs more days than it doesn’t for a minimum of six months. The worry can be directed at essentially anything including everyday school or activities, and it’s out of the control of the child.
With pediatric generalized anxiety disorder, other symptoms that usually accompany the worry include restlessness or edginess, problems concentrating, muscle tension, irritability or sleep problems.
Excessive is really the keyword regarding diagnosing a generalized anxiety disorder, versus everyday worries and concerns. Children with GAD have such distress related to their anxiety that it impairs their functioning.
Children with GAD may strive for perfection or worry about not doing things right. They also tend to be critical of themselves, and they aren’t willing to try new activities in many cases because they’re worried about how they’ll do.
It’s not uncommon to see kids with GAD who seek a lot of reassurance from the people around them including their parents and teachers, but that reassurance does little to calm their anxiety or is only a temporary source of comfort.
While a normal part of childhood development is taking small risks to learn about new situations, a child with an anxiety disorder may either be unwilling to take these steps, or they may want repeated approval before doing so.
Physical symptoms are often a marker of GAD in both adults and children, but in children, these symptoms can be overlooked or attributed to something else.
Children with anxiety disorders may have frequent stomach aches or gastrointestinal symptoms, or they may get headaches as examples.
Sometimes the symptoms of GAD in children aren’t recognized until complications occur. Untreated anxiety in children often leads to problems in school, and an unwillingness to participate in activities such as sports or groups that might create anxiety.
A child with anxiety may also have difficulty with relationships whether it’s at school or with family members, because they may be irritable due to their anxiety, or they may seem very needy as they strive for reassurance.
Unfortunately, many children with anxiety that goes undiagnosed may be more likely to develop substance abuse problems later in life as a way to self-medicate. Luckily, there are treatment options for children with GAD, primarily including cognitive behavioral therapy or in some cases, medicine and therapy.