A certain amount of anxiety, worry and fear is part of every normal childhood. At various developmental stages kids have fear of strangers, loud noises, critters, the dark, change, school, storms, etc. While these cause anxiety symptoms, they are not evidence of an anxiety disorder. Most the time these worries eventually fade and there is no need to do anything out the ordinary to help your child. However, there are things to look for as markers that you child has a problem.
4 guidelines to determine if you have a problem
There are 4 major guidelines to look for that provide a good rule of thumb. First of all, how long has the anxiety lasted? Depending on the type of anxiety if your child has obvious anxiety for more than 3 or 4 weeks most every day or if you are noticing a steady increase in symptoms then consider the first marker met. Second, are there episodes of high intensity? In kids anxiety can appear as tantrums, crying, clinging, angry outbursts, etc. Third, are the symptoms interfering significantly with your child’s daily life? Is it causing school problems, sleep issues, impacting friendships, etc. Fourth is the anxiety way out of line with the circumstances? Does the reaction seem dramatically out of line with what you would expect, other kids your child’s age and with your child’s typical behavior?
(Update: Since the original post we have added a more comprehensive symptom checklist to the site.)
If you think at least three of the previous areas are problems then the next step is to dig a bit deeper. In order to help with this I have created a brief checklist that may help you know if your child is at the point where it is time to take the next step. Please do NOT consider this as a true diagnostic assessment. Accurately diagnosing an anxiety disorder must be done in conjunction with an experienced therapist. The clinician may use checklists and other tests as part of the process. Those tests are much more carefully developed than my list. My checklist is designed to give you a general idea about childhood anxiety disorders and be part of the information gathering you need to decide whether or not you should take the next steps toward getting treatment.
Anxiety problems have more common elements than differences so the first thing is to get a broad measure of anxiety. Following that we can try to narrow it down to more specific kinds of anxiety. If you marked each question as a major problem it would equal 72 points. That would be very unlikely because most people don’t have every symptom or behavior with any kind of psychological problem. For this checklist, as a general rule if the score is below 30 any anxiety is either mild or not a problem. Between 30 and 45 would suggest a moderate problem. Scores 45 and higher would likely warrant getting a professional opinion. I would recommend you take the rest of the checklists (coming soon) if the score is 40 and above. Again, please consider these scores as educational only and not evidence of a disorder.