Anxiety in Children: Understanding the different types

Anxiety is a common experience for children, and as a parent, it’s important to understand the different types of anxiety your child may be experiencing. By recognising the signs and symptoms of anxiety, you can help your child manage their emotions and support them through their struggles.

Here, the Kids First psychology team explores the six types of anxiety most commonly experienced by children and offers tips for supporting your child’s mental health.

Separation anxiety in children is common in Australia

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a type of anxiety that is common in young children when they are separated from their caregiver or loved one. This can manifest as crying, clinging, or refusing to go to school or be away from the caregiver.

As a parent of a child who struggles with separation anxiety, it’s important to be patient with your child and offer reassurance when they are feeling anxious. You can also help them prepare for separations by talking about what will happen and when you will be back.

If your child is aged under 7, a visual schedule that explains the steps involved in saying goodbye and returning later can be a good way to help your child understand that you will never forget them.

Many Sydney children struggle with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)

Generalised Anxiety

Generalised anxiety is a type of anxiety that involves excessive worry and fear about a wide range of things, such as school, social situations, health, and safety. This can be overwhelming for your child, but by providing a safe and supportive environment, you can help them manage their anxiety.

Telling an anxious child not to worry is rarely helpful. Instead, encourage your child to talk about their worries and fears, and help them develop coping strategies such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or visualisation.

Social anxiety is common in many sensitive children

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is a type of anxiety that can make your child feel uncomfortable in social situations. Meeting new people, speaking in public, or participating in group activities can be agonising for children who experience social anxiety, and so it is important to show understanding and give practical support.

Encourage your child to take small steps in social situations, such as introducing themselves to one new person at a time, and remind them that it’s okay to feel nervous. You can also help your child develop social skills by role-playing social situations and offering positive feedback.

It can be frightening for a child to have a panic attack

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety that involves sudden and intense panic attacks, which can include symptoms such as heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, and feelings of impending doom.

A panic attack can frightening for an adult, and even more frightening for child who may not have the vocabulary to explain what is happening to them.

If your child experiences panic attacks, it’s important to seek professional help so that you can get qualified advice about how to support them through the process. An experienced child psychologist or counsellor can also help your child develop coping strategies, such as deep breathing, visualization, or progressive muscle relaxation.

Child psychologists say that children who struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) need professional help

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety that involves persistent, intrusive thoughts or images (obsessions) that are distressing and cause anxiety.

If your son or daughter struggles with OCD, they may engage in repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions) to try to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsessions.

It’s important to recognise the signs of OCD and seek professional help if necessary. As a parent, you can offer support and understanding and help your child develop coping strategies, which are learned through treatments such as exposure therapy or cognitive-behavioural therapy.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) requires specialist support when it affects children

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, serious accident, or violence. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance, and hyperarousal.

If your child experiences symptoms of PTSD, it’s important to seek professional help and support them through their recovery. Your child will benefit when you work closely with a mental health professional who can show you how to help your child feel safe and secure by providing a stable home environment and talking about their feelings and emotions.

Psychology and Counselling for families and children at Kids First Brookvale

Need help for your anxious child?

Mental health professionals with specific knowledge and experience working with children can work with you, your child, and your family to support your child.

Some schools offer this support, and paediatric professionals working in private practices, such as Kids First Children’s Services, also provide personalised programs to help your son or daughter to overcome their anxiety.

Cool Kids Anxiety Program

Thankfully there are effective treatments for anxiety, and the world-renowned Cool Kids Anxiety Program is one evidence-based program that helps children and their parents learn strategies to manage fears and worries.

Using cognitive behavioural techniques, children learn to face their fears gradually and challenge anxious thoughts. Parents also learn about helpful ways to respond to their child’s anxiety so that everyday stresses at home, school, and in social settings become easier to cope with.

Cool Kids is offered at Kids First Children’s Services at our multi-disciplinary paediatric health centre in Sydney’s northern beaches. Every term, this innovative small group program for children in Years 3 to 6 is facilitated by members of our experienced child psychology team. For more information, contact Kids First on (02) 9938 5419

Find out more about the Cool Kids Anxiety Program at Kids First here

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