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ask: My almost 6 yr. old son is having excessive fear

By jennylynn4eva
 
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My almost 6 yr. old son is having excessive fear of what my husband and I are feeling which he actually outright said and he said more so with dad. And he is constantly feeling the need to apologize for everything no matter what it is. He has been very clingy lately and is terrified if he can't find us right away for instance if we are in the bathroom and he doesn't immediately know where we are he gets terrified. I don't know whats causing this? I don't know if this is a disorder or a phase? His PCP has set to evaluate next week by a psychologist for an evaluation and I am scared to death :(

What Are the Most Common Anxiety Disorders in Children?

There are several types of anxiety disorders. The list below describes those most common to children.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder —Children with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) have repeated fears and worries that they find difficult to control. They worry about almost everything—school, sports, being on time, even natural disasters. They may be restless, irritable, tense, or easily tired, and they may have trouble concentrating or sleeping. Children with GAD are usually eager to please others and may be “perfectionists" who are dissatisfied with their own less-than-perfect performance.

Separation Anxiety Disorder —Children with separation anxiety disorder have intense anxiety about being away from home or caregivers that affects their ability to function socially and in school. These children have a great need to stay at home or be close to their parents. Children with this disorder may worry a lot about their parents when they are apart from them. When they are together, the child may cling to parents, refuse to go to school, or be afraid to sleep alone. Repeated nightmares about separation and physical symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches are also common in children with separation anxiety disorder.

Social Phobia —Social phobia usually begins in the mid-teens and typically does not affect young children. Young people with this disorder have a constant fear of social or performance situations such as speaking in class or eating in public. This fear is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as sweating, blushing, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, or muscle tenseness. Young people with this disorder typically respond to these feelings by avoiding the feared situation. For example, they may stay home from school or avoid parties. Young people with social phobia are often overly sensitive to criticism, have trouble being assertive, and suffer from low self-esteem. Social phobia can be limited to specific situations, so the adolescent may fear dating and recreational events but be confident in academic and work situations.

Obsessive-compulsive Disorder —Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) typically begins in early childhood or adolescence. Children with OCD have frequent and uncontrollable thoughts (called “obsessions”) and may perform routines or rituals (called “compulsions”) in an attempt to eliminate the thoughts. Those with the disorder often repeat behaviors to avoid some imagined consequence. For example, a compulsion common to people with OCD is excessive hand washing due to a fear of germs. Other common compulsions include counting, repeating words silently, and rechecking completed tasks. In the case of OCD, these obsessions and compulsions take up so much time that they interfere with daily living and cause a young person a great deal of anxiety.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder —Children who experience a physical or emotional trauma such as witnessing a shooting or disaster, surviving physical or sexual abuse, or being in a car accident may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Children are more easily traumatized than adults. An event that may not be traumatic to an adult—such as a bumpy plane ride—might be traumatic to a child. A child may “re-experience” the trauma through nightmares, constant thoughts about what happened, or reenacting the event while playing. A child with PTSD will experience symptoms of general anxiety, including irritability or trouble sleeping and eating. Children may exhibit other symptoms such as being easily startled.

What Can Parents and Caregivers Do?

By identifying, diagnosing and treating anxiety disorders early, parents and others can help children reach their full potential. Anxiety disorders are treatable. Effective treatment for anxiety disorders may include some form of psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, or medications. Children who exhibit persistent symptoms of an anxiety disorder should be referred to and evaluated by a mental health professional who specializes in treating children. The diagnostic evaluation may include psychological testing and consultation with other specialists. A comprehensive treatment plan should be developed with the family, and, whenever possible, the child should be involved in making treatment decisions.

I looked this article up and my son doesn't fit most of the criteria for any of these disorders so that's why I am a bit hesitant to take to get evaluated because I don't know if it will cause him to feel anxious by it.

Add a Comment3 Comments

Rosa Cabrera RN

Hi Jennylynn4eva,

I'm so sorry to hear that your son is going through this right now. At some point did you or your husband ever reprimand him for straying away from either one of you? Has he been watching unsupervised TV lately? It may sound bizarre to you but if a 6 year old has access to a TV and he accidentally watched a show were a child is abducted or put in harms way then you can see where he would fear being separated from you.

If neither of these apply to you, it really could just be separation anxiety, which peaks from ages 5-6, 7-9, and 12-14. The psychological evaluation may determine that he is a perfectly normal child undergoing separation anxiety but it is necessary and will help give you peace of mind. 

One thing I can tell you is to stop googling disorders. It will not help, in fact, it will only increase your anxiety level and not give you any answers. Remain positive and wait until his psychological evaluation.

All the best,

Rosa

January 11, 2012 - 5:34am
jennylynn4eva (reply to Rosa Cabrera RN)

Hello Rosa,
Thank you for your very thoughtful and insightful advice. My son is not allowed to watch any type of violent programs whatsoever. He does sleepover my in-laws and my father's house from time to time so I am hoping they haven't exposed him to any inappropriate television but I am going to follow up on that one. My husband does tend to raise his voice when my son is doing things he shouldn't be doing but he doesn't swear at him or degrade him in anyway but even still I do pull him aside and tell him to lower his voice and put my son in time out if he is acting inappropriately with that being said I am not a saint either I have seldom occasions where I do raise my voice slightly when he is being inappropriate. But neither my husband nor myself in anyway compromise his psychological, emotional, or physical well being. We in no way use physical contact as a means of punishment only time outs. And since he has started developing these recent fears I have incorporated some new things on my own to try and reassure him such as creating a feelings chart for everyone in the house, creating the 5 and 5 game where he gets to ask me any 5 questions and I will answer them and in return I get to ask him any 5 questions that he has to answer which is generally centered on how he is feeling and why and I have actually learned alot about what and why he is feeling the way he does, I have tried to have him practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, playing soft music at night, and he uses a nightlight to help him sleep so I am trying like the dickens to help reassure him and I must say he seems to be 50-60 percent better. So this is why I am torn because if he sees this child psychologist will she only discuss some fears that he hadn't even thought of or will it serve the purpose of helping him I don't know? Is she just trying to get money out of us as I did tell her what the situation was and she agreed that it probably is a phase but without even a formal evaluation she is already telling me it will probably be at least 8-10wks. of session to "get a better grip on things" so is she in it just for the money or for helping him and obviously getting paid as well. Ugh I am so confused and speculative at this point. Thank you for listening. Any advice would be much appreciated!

January 11, 2012 - 7:12am
Rosa Cabrera RN (reply to jennylynn4eva)

JennyLynn,

I think you're doing a great job with the use of breathing & relaxation techniques and the feelings chart. By no means does raising your voice at your son make you a bad mother or your husband a bad father-- most parents raise their voices at their children at one point or another, some without even realizing it. If it isn't degrading, abusive, or overly-used then I don't think this is the cause of his fear. 

In all honesty, the psychologist doesn't sound like she's trying to take your money. She's probably thinking that there may be something deeper that both you and your husband may have missed and that's why she needs 8-10 weeks of therapy to try to help your son. Keep in mind that she is a stranger and in order for her to help him she needs time to observe, speak, and treat him and that takes time. As a mother, I know how frustrating this can be and how uneasy I would be if this were my son-- but I would also like to get to the bottom of it and if the psychologist determines that it is just a phase he's going through and that he's otherwise normal then this therapy would have paid for itself because at least I now have peace of mind. Make sense? 

January 11, 2012 - 8:17am
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