Causes and effects of anxiety in children under the microscope

An article in the Sunday Times, exploring the subject of children and anxiety, states that "South African children as young as three are being treated for anxiety".

Psychiatrist Dr Kedi Motingoe, says that anxiety disorder cuts across all age groups. But it is difficult to detect in children younger than three. Some behaviours are often pegged as simply irritability and bad tempers, she says.

But we can see it even in infants... even infants can have a reaction to anxiety. This is because parents are not coping and are not able to contain children sufficiently.

Dr Kedi Motingoe, Psychiatrist

Symptoms of anxiety in infants

  • High levels of irritability
  • Difficult to console
  • Eating and sleeping disturbances
  • Not responding to stimulation from the mother
  • Developmental delays
  • And lack of engagement

In Pre-school children

  • Do not socialize with other children
  • Withdrawing behaviour
  • Clinging to the teacher

Youngsters with anxiety disorders tend to keep it bottled up. Young children and teenagers are able to articulate their feelings, but can keep going for years at school without saying anything due to other factors, like parents not being available.

Children don't find the right platforms at times because parents are less available due to their own work pressures. Sometimes it goes unrecognised that the child is suffering.

Dr Kedi Motingoe, Psychiatrist

Some children internalise their anxieties and their negative moods state and become frustrated with themselves, have low-self-esteem, while others externalise and end up behaving negatively by not responding positively towards care givers and teachers.

Dr Kedi Motingoe, Psychiatrist

Dr Motingoe says sometimes anxiety is assumed to be a symptom of ADHD but when looked at very closely, they find ADHD is not the cause.

She says it is important to look at the quality of care children are receiving especially in their early years, as this is when they are most emotionally vulnerable. Not all children develop healthy emotional attachments at this crucial stage, and it can lead to anxiety.

Listen to the full conversation below:


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