Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Children's and parenting health centre

Childhood anxiety

When do kids' worries become an anxiety disorder?
By
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

It's perfectly normal for children to have worries and fears. Whether it's being afraid of the dark, dreading a big maths test or having a fall out with a friend; kids, just like adults, get anxious about things.

Sometimes your child's anxiety can be more than just passing concerns. It can develop into a disorder which stops them from enjoying life as they should.

"Parents are good at spotting the signs of anxiety" says clinical child psychologist Dr Sam Cartwright-Hatton.

"There's a problem when it's more intense anxiety than they see in other kids, when it's interfering with a child's life, stopping them from going to school or making friends."

Anxiety may have got out of hand if it's affecting your child a lot of the time, for weeks at a time. They may be having trouble sleeping at night and are more easily irritable and upset than usual.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists estimates that 300,000 children and young people in Britain have an anxiety disorder.

There are a number of different anxiety disorders which affect children.

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)

Generalised anxiety disorder is characterised by excessive worry over any number of things. It may be school, exams, being on time, family issues or world events.

Kids with GAD may find they can't control their worries and they can lead to physical symptoms like sleep problems, irritability and difficulty in concentrating.

Fourteen year old Charlotte had a problem with worrying last year.

"When I couldn't get to sleep, I worried that I'd be tired at school the next day which made me stressed and I still couldn't sleep. It got to the stage when I dreaded going to bed as I knew I'd be lying their worrying for hours and hours about not having enough sleep."

Charlotte experienced sleep problems caused by worry for about 6 months but now the phase has passed and she sleeps well.

Quite often GAD is school related.

"If a child doesn't want to go to school, anxiety can turn into physical symptoms like sickness and stomach cramps," says Daphne Joseph, manager of the parents' helpline at the charity YoungMinds.

"If it's happening every day it's a cause for concern. If there's actually nothing physically wrong, you need to find out what's going on and speak to a teacher," she says.

Mum Rachel realised her daughter had a severe anxiety problem when she was in year 8 at senior school. "She was getting so anxious about going in to certain lessons as she was having anxiety attacks - feeling sick, overwhelmed and basically walking out of lessons and hiding in the toilets for a while or going to the sick bay."

She and her husband felt completely helpless, upset, angry and worried.

Children's health newsletter

Tips to inspire healthy habits
Sign Up

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

woman_holding_head_in_pain
How to help headache pain
rash on skin
Top eczema triggers to avoid
79x79_causes_of_fatigue_and_how_to_fight_it.jpg
Causes of fatigue & how to fight it
period_questions_answered
Tips to support digestive health
woman looking at pregnancy test
Is your body ready for pregnancy?
woman sleeping
Sleep better tonight
girl_sneezing_into_tissue
Treating your child's cold or fever
bucket with cleaning supplies in it
Cleaning and organising tips
adult man contemplating
When illness makes it hard to eat
woman holding stomach
Understand this common condition
cold sore
What you need to know