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There are many ways you can help children and their families get the care they need.
All of us are born with the natural “fight or flight” response that helped our ancestors escape predators and other threats. When we are afraid or stressed, the part of our brain in control of the fight or flight response will cause the nervous, fearful feeling we call anxiety.
While everyone experiences anxiety at times, people with anxiety disorders feel worry that is difficult to control and interferes with their functioning. There are biological, family, and environmental factors that may contribute to a child having an anxiety disorder.
The brain has special chemicals, called neurotransmitters, that send messages back and forth to control the way a person feels. Serotonin and dopamine are two important neurotransmitters that, when “out of whack,” can cause feelings of anxiety.
Just as a child can inherit a parent’s brown hair, green eyes, and nearsightedness, a child can also inherit that parent’s anxiety. In addition, anxiety may be learned from family members and others who are noticeably stressed or anxious around a child. For example, a child whose parent is a perfectionist may become a perfectionist too. Parents can also contribute to their child’s anxiety without realizing it by the way they respond to their child. For example, allowing a child to miss school when they are anxious about going, likely causes the child to feel more anxious the next school day.
A traumatic experience (such as a divorce, illness, or death in the family) may also trigger the onset of an anxiety disorder.
Anyone can be affected by an anxiety disorder when worries become so intense that they interfere with daily functioning and cause distress.
Anxiety disorders can cause both and physical and emotional symptoms.
Physical Symptoms Include:
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem in childhood, with up to 1/10 children and adolescents having an anxiety disorder.
All kids experience anxiety. Certain fears and worries are typical for specific age groups. For example, young children are often afraid of loud noises, strangers, the dark, and imaginary figures. Most of these fears will disappear as the child gets older. However, if these fears or other worries get so big that they begin to interfere with a child’s daily functioning (they avoid activities, can’t relax or concentrate), they may have an anxiety disorder.
Unlike adults, children usually don’t realize how intense or abnormal their feelings of anxiety have become. It can be difficult for a child to know that something is “wrong.”
Seeking help for your child at the first sign of excessive worrying will help to keep worries from growing so big that they are likely to develop into an anxiety disorder. Some other tips include:
With proper treatment, the majority of children diagnosed with an anxiety disorder experience a reduction or elimination of symptoms within several months.
We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”