Mental disorders in children
Anxiety in children
Much like adults, children can experience anxiety.
It is advised to prevent anxiety in children. Experiencing intense anxiety can cause children certain problems, including difficulties sleeping and eating, relationship problems or difficulties in accomplishing daily activities.
Causes of anxiety
Children’s fears and concerns
All children have fears at one point or another. They experience these fears in varying degrees of intensity depending on their developmental stage and personality.
Young children have difficulty understanding their fears and concerns. Hence the reason they react exaggeratedly when they are scared. As an adult, you should try to understand how your child feels in order to help them express themselves. If they express their fears and concerns, it will be easier for your child to overcome them.
Examples of fears and concerns
Around 7-8 months, babies cry when they do not see their parents, and are afraid of strangers. They experience separation anxiety, also known as fear of separation.
Between 2 and 5 years of age, children begin to have nightmares and to experience all sorts of fears, including:
- Fear of monsters
- Fear of the dark
After 5 years of age, fears and concerns have to do with surroundings and the real world. The more the child grows, the more their fears become more like those of adults. They can experience the following, for example:
- Fears of specific things, such as fear of thieves, fire, animals, accidents, war or death
- Social fears, such as fear of being made fun of by other kids at school or fear of public speaking
Family and social circumstances that can cause anxiety
A child may be troubled by different family or social circumstances, including the following:
- Change of school or daycare
- An important upcoming event, such as an exam or sports competition
Children that are able to read an article or understand news bulletins on television can be upset by some events.
They may also feel their parents’ stress and anxiety.
Recognising signs and symptoms of anxiety
The most common signs of anxiety in children are the following:
- Sleeping problems
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling fear much more intensely than other children of the same age, which causes them to avoid certain situations
- Refusing to attend school or participate in sports activities
- Difficulty making friends
- Certain physical symptoms, such as stomach aches, vomiting and fatigue
- Crying and tantrums
- Freezing behaviors (the child clings, withdraws and says nothing).
These signs can occur in the presence of other children or adults.
What to do
As a parent, you should help prevent or reduce your child’s anxiety. Here are several ways to help your child manage anxiety:
- Help with translating feelings into words.
- Ask questions and listen. Above all, your child is in need of expressing their fears. Do not try to find solutions to them at any cost.
- When your child develops a new fear, be reassuring and allow them as much time as needed to overcome it.
- Children sometimes experience fear or have difficulty adapting to new situations. Help your child prepare for new situations through games or reassuring stories.
- Help your child develop self-esteem.
- Congratulate your child when their fear is overcome. Remind them often of all the fears they have overcome. This will encourage them to continue managing their fears.
- Do not allow your child to avoid every situation that causes them anxiety. Instead, encourage them to face situations by showing your support.
- Move slowly but surely. Respect your child’s pace. Confront troubling situations one at a time in a progressive manner.
You can also help prevent your child’s anxiety by following advice for maintaining good mental health.
When to consult
If your child shows signs of anxiety that worry you, you can contact organisms and associations working with anxiety disorders. They offer information, help and support.
However, consult your family doctor or another health professional if you experience one of the following situations:
- Your child is experiencing distress
- Your child has difficulty accomplishing daily activities due to high anxiety
- Your child’s condition affects family life
A health professional will assess whether or not your child has anxiety disorder or another health problem with similar symptoms.
Various treatments could be prescribed to help your child overcome their fears and anxieties. It is likely that you will be a part of their treatment, especially if they refuse to go to school. In such a case, you will have to work with the school staff.
Go to Help and Resources to find the assistance available to you.
Help and resources
Information and support resources
Resources are available for parents and children who wish to receive help or more information about anxiety in children:
- LigneParents (toll-free helpline: 1 800 361-5085 – in French only).
This free and confidential service is available day and night to all parents of children aged between 0 and 20 years. The service is provided by professionals
- Tel-jeunes (toll-free helpline: 1 800 263-2266).
This free and confidential service is available day and night to all young people between 5 and 20 years old. The service is provided by professionals
- L’anxiété chez l’enfant – Naître et grandir (in French only)
You may also go to the anxiety disorders information page to find all available resources for anxiety disorders.
Resources for care and services
To receive care or services, or to find a professional with whom your child feels comfortable, contact one of the following resources:
Last update: October 28, 2019