As a preschooler, Amanda Sprague would cling to her mum or dad around new people, slept with the bedroom door wide open and the hall light on, and was skittish about bugs. To her parents this didn’t seem all
that unusual for her age. But when she started school, Amanda’s worries multiplied and intensifi ed, says Laurie, her mother. She would cower in bed, paralyzed with fear during a thunderstorm. When she spotted two ladybugs on the ceiling, she ran screaming from her bedroom and refused to go to sleep.
Food was also a major source of anxiety for Amanda, and she constantly worried about choking. When she was eight, she suddenly stopped eating completely. “She said she couldn’t swallow and thought something was stuck in her throat,” says her mother. “Our doctor ruled out a throat infection and X-rays showed nothing was medically wrong with her.”
Days later Amanda developed a morbid fear of dying. She cried at bedtimeand thought her heart was beating too fast. Admitted to hospital, she was diagnosedwith generalized anxiety disorder. She was so anxious that her throat had constricted,making swallowing impossible.
Amanda’s case is extreme, but it represents the tip of a serious problem facing youngsters today. Experts suggest that thousands of children experience anxiety disorders such as this. Many more struggle with anxiety problems–the mid-range anxiety that is above normal but not extreme.
Children often suffer on their own because they don’t recognize that theyhave a problem, don’t understand what’s happening to them or can’t explain theirfeelings. Parents might overlook or minimize their child’s problem. Or they might have trouble interpreting the signs—children can express anxiety
in many ways,from extreme shyness to irritability or even defi ance.
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