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The six most common anxiety disorders in primary school-aged children are:
Phobia is diagnosed when particular objects, situations or events such as injections, spiders or heights bring about intense fear and avoidance, even though the real threat of harm is small.
Social phobia refers to extreme levels of shyness and fears of being seen in a negative light. Children with social phobia avoid social interactions such as talking to new people, speaking up in class or performing in public. They may be highly self-conscious and have difficulty forming friendships.
Generalised anxiety disorder
Generalised anxiety disorder is diagnosed when kids have excessive and unrealistic worries about a broad range of possibilities. They may worry about things that might happen, about their own past behaviour, how good they are at their schoolwork or how popular they are. They often lack conﬁdence and need a lot of reassurance.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may develop following a traumatic event such as being in a serious accident, experiencing a life-threatening event or witnessing extreme violence. Symptoms include changes in sleep patterns, irritability and problems with concentration. Kids with PTSD may experience mental ﬂashbacks and feel like they’re ‘reliving’ the event. They may express or recreate the traumatic event through drawing or playing.
Obsessive compulsive disorder
With obsessive compulsive disorder, the child has persistent unwanted thoughts, often about dirt or germs, or sometimes a need for symmetry. To try to stop the thoughts they repeat a particular action, such as washing their hands or repeated counting. Older kids usually recognise that the thoughts and behaviours don’t make sense even though they’re driven by them.
Separation anxiety disorder
Separation anxiety relates to children’s fear and distress at being away from their main care givers. Young children can lack the ability to understand why their care giver has left and when they’ll return. Older kids often fear that something bad will happen to a loved one while they’re separated.
Fear of separation is considered developmentally appropriate up to two years of age. Separation anxiety disorder can be diagnosed when distress in separation does not naturally reduce after this age and the intensity of the child’s anxiety remains severe. Crying, tantrums, and pleading can occur when the care giver attempts to leave the child, and general clinginess is common. Children may also complain about feeling sick at home and school, spend a lot of time in the sick bay, or refuse to go to school altogether. School camps and sleepovers can also cause major distress.
Children with anxiety difﬁculties tend to lack conﬁdence in their abilities and feel overwhelmed easily. They are also driven to avoid the things that cause them anxiety, and in doing so, don’t get the chance to learn that what they fear will usually not happen. You can help by working on coping and problem-solving skills together.
If anxiety is getting in the way of your child enjoying life, it’s time to seek support. Don’t leave it and assume things will get better on their own. Seeking help early for your child is the best thing you can do.
The best place to start is by speaking to your GP or health practitioner. They will be able to assess your individual situation and recommend the best next steps for your recovery.
Our team of mental health professionals are here to support you on our 24/7 Mental Health Phone Support line. It’s available to Medibank members with hospital cover 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 1800 644 325~.
How to support your anxious child
Some kids find it much harder to manage stressful situations and the world can be scarier for them than for other kids their age. Here's a glimpse at how your can support an anxious child.
Depression in children
Depression can stop kids enjoying the things they normally like doing, or taking part in their usual activities. Find out about the signs of depression in children and what you can do to help.
Things you need to know
~ OSHC members should call the Student Health and Support Line on 1800 887 283.
While we hope you find this information helpful, please note that it is general in nature. It is not health advice, and is not tailored to meet your individual health needs. You should always consult a trusted health professional before making decisions about your health care. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them. For these reasons we are unable to accept responsibility for any loss that may be sustained from acting on this information (subject to applicable consumer guarantees).
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