Childhood Stress & Anxiety: Statistics & Symptoms

Instructor: Gaines Arnold

Gaines has a Master of Science in Education.

This lesson looks at how stress and anxiety affect children. A definition of the two primary terms - stress and anxiety - is given, statistics regarding how these two conditions impact children are relayed as well as symptoms that a parent needs to be aware of.

Wetting the Bed

Sylvia was able to sleep through the night from the time she was three weeks old, which amazed her parents. She was never fussy about going to bed and had few problems associated with bedtime (such as sleeplessness or nightmares). However, recently Sylvia, at the age of eight, had started wetting the bed. Whenever she had an accident, she seemed worried that she was going to get into trouble and would cringe when she told her parents. Sylvia's mom and dad were concerned because they had never been physical with her, and they wanted to know why she would suddenly start wetting the bed.

Stress and Anxiety

People experience stress every day and sometimes it is a good thing. Stress is pressure that is felt either emotionally, physically, or mentally. It can be good because it can cause people to move out of their comfort zone and accomplish something new. Unfortunately, many times, stress, and the chemicals associated with a stress reaction, is prolonged which then causes adverse reactions within the body.

Anxiety is a reaction to either a present or imagined, stressful situation. However, though anxiety is related to stress, when it continues after the stressful event has ended it is much more problematic. Anxiety that persists becomes a disorder.

Researchers have actually found, though, that in some cases, some amount of anxiety can be positive. When a person is taking a test, most will perform better if they have a manageable amount of anxiety associated with the examination. The key word there is manageable; when anxiety becomes unmanageable, it will cause problems.

Anxiety and Stress by the Numbers

Although children experience stress in the same numbers as adults, statistics are very hard to come by. Many studies are done regarding how anxiety and stress affect adults and teens, but very few are designed specifically for children. This means that although there are some things generally known about stress/anxiety and children, there are very few specifics numbers. However, it is known that:

  • Girls are more likely (as is the case with women) to have an anxiety disorder.
  • Social anxiety disorder typically begins in the early teens, but it has also been seen in very young children (as young as seven).
  • Phobias of all types are seen to have roots in childhood. According to statistics gathered by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the median age for phobias to start is seven.
  • Along with phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) start at about the same time in a person's life.
  • When a child is subjected to sexual abuse, they are much more likely to have PTSD throughout their life.
  • Approximately 13% of children will have an anxiety disorder. If untreated, the child is more likely to perform poorly in school and have issues with substance dependence.

Symptoms of Stress/Anxiety in Children

Since stress is prevalent in every age group, it may be difficult for a parent to tell if their child is having an abnormal amount or not. Many of the symptoms of extreme stress and anxiety seem to be common maladies in childhood. Thus, a parent has to be vigilant and look for signs of anxiety and extreme stress. Some of the signs are:

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