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Anxiety disorders in childhood: symptoms and treatments

Anxiety disorders in childhood: symptoms and treatments

January 30, 2024

Know the anxiety disorders that occur in childhood It is very important, given the delicate stage of life that minors spend.

In this article we will see what are the disorders of this type and how they can be treated.

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Types of anxiety disorders in children

Children and adolescents, like adults, may have symptoms of anxiety and, despite the similarities, the consequences may be more damaging as they run the risk that they affect their socio-emotional development and even chronify becoming a more severe pathology.


That is why it is important to detect early any signs of anxiety during childhood. Some situations such as the change of school, the passage to the institute, the birth of a brother, the separation of the parents, the loss of a family member or the transfer to another city, can cause the appearance of anxiety. On the other hand, generalized anxiety disorder has a higher incidence, but separation anxiety disorder is very common and specific in children.

Anxiety disorders that appear during childhood They can be classified in the following categories.

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1. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder is defined clinically, both in children and adults, as an exacerbated concern and difficult to control in many situations, present most of the days for at least six months.


According to the Manual of Psychiatry DSM IV, anxiety is associated with three or more of the following symptoms: restlessness or impatience, ease of fatigue, difficulty concentrating or staying with the mind blank, irritability, muscle tension and sleep disturbances.

Anxiety affects parents and the child , harming their school performance and social relationships, and concerns can encompass many situations: school or sports performance, social approval, personal competence, etc.

Children and adolescents who suffer from this disorder tend to be conformist, perfectionist and unsure of themselves, and anxiety It can be accompanied by headache and muscle , nausea, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and other symptoms of physical discomfort.

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2. Separation anxiety disorder (ASD)

During childhood, it is common to feel anxiety when separating from attachment figures. Normally this fear appears after six months and intensifies after two years, responding to an adaptive need as it constitutes a mechanism for protection against hazards of the environment. However, if the anxiety is disproportionate based on the developmental development of the child and / or affects its functioning, we may face a separation anxiety disorder.


It is the most frequent anxiety disorder in children under 12 years of age and of earlier appearance, suffering from it around 4% of boys and girls and 1.6% of adolescents . The presence of this pathology decreases with age, but the concerns of those who suffer from it also change. Thus, adolescents with separation anxiety disorder manifest more catastrophic concerns, for example, accidents, kidnappings or the death of the attachment figure.

For the clinical diagnosis of SAD it is necessary that the child or adolescent suffer three or more of the following symptoms: excessive anxiety due to separation or anticipation, excessive worry about the loss or well-being of the attachment figures, opposition to leaving house, opposition to being alone, opposition to sleeping away from attachment figures , nightmares about separation and complaints of physical discomfort (headache or stomach pain, nausea or vomiting, etc.) to occur or anticipate the separation.

What processes intervene in the appearance and maintenance of the TAS?

Learning deficits, that is, the lack of separations, prevent the child from getting used to being without parents . To eliminate the fear of separation, it is necessary to gradually increase the frequency and duration of experiences in which the child is far away from the attachment figures. Therefore, if the child is not exposed to these situations in a natural environment, it is possible that the fear persists.

Traumatic or unexpected separation experiences Such as parental divorce, schooling, hospitalization of an attachment figure or the death of a close person, can also lead to anxiety and even trigger the disorder.

Finally, positive reinforcement is one of the factors that most influences the appearance and maintenance of the disorder. If the father figures reward the excessive addiction and dependence behaviors , the child will associate them with the reward received, be it the attention or the simple presence of the parents.

Treatment of anxiety disorders in childhood

Since an anxiety disorder can incapacitate the functioning of those who suffer from it in the short and long term, it is necessary to intervene as soon as possible and not let yourself be guided by the thought that it is a phase or that you will be alone.

In the case of childhood anxiety, according to the Society of Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychology of the APA (Association of American Psychiatry), The best established treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy , which should be the first therapeutic choice. Its effectiveness has been demonstrated in individual treatments with the child and with the parents and in group treatments in the family and school environment. Specifically, the three most used procedures are exposure, cognitive techniques and relaxation.

On the one hand, gradual exposure, live or in imagination , is the main component of cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Training in self-instruction is also a fundamental part of therapy, and consists of modifying the child's internal verbalizations to replace them with others that allow them to cope with anxiety.

Regarding relaxation, the most used method is progressive relaxation, according to which the reduction of body tension It will relieve the subjective feelings of anxiety. It is also a coping strategy that will help young people maintain anxiety at sustainable levels.

Intervention programs for parents and children

In addition, several programs focused on parents and children have been developed in the last decades. prevent and treat childhood-specific anxiety disorders .

The guide "Coping Cat" or The Brave Cat is especially useful for teach parents to educate without overprotecting and to promote the autonomy of the child. It consists of a program divided into two phases in which on the one hand we work with parents and on the other hand individual sessions are held with the child tackling tasks such as psychoeducation, relaxation, exposure, cognitive restructuring, problem solving and self-control

We can also find us the FRIENDS program, divided into four versions according to the child's age , and the FORTIUS program that, based on the Olympic slogan "Citius, Altius, Fortius" (faster, higher, stronger), teaches children from 8 to 12 years old to face difficult situations and control negative emotions.

These programs based on cognitive-behavioral therapy are adapted to the peculiarities of children and adolescents and to the characteristics of behavioral disorders at these ages, something that greatly benefits children.


Anxiety Disorders : Signs & Symptoms of Child Anxiety (January 2024).


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