Anxiety in Children

Anxiety is a common mental heath condition characterized by changes in mood, behavior, and functioning that persist for at least several weeks and cause difficulties in functioning. For children this might mean academic or behavioral difficulties at school, difficulties interacting with peers, or withdrawing from family. Anxiety is more than simply being in a bad mood, feeling sad, or having a negative attitude and includes other significant psychological, biological, and behavioral changes.

Anxiety Signs in Children

Anxiety Signs and Symptoms

  • Feeling angry
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Feeling worthless
  • Frequent crying
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of energy or fatigue
  • Low self-esteem
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Academic  difficulties (e..g, drop in grades, not doing school work)
  • Behavioral issues (e.g., getting into trouble at school, or refusing to go to school)
  • Change in appetite
  • Low self-esteem
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Anxiety Treatment for Children 

Psychotherapy (i.e., talk or behavioral therapy) is an effective treatment for anxiety in children and for mild to moderate anxiety is recommended as a first-line treatment. For more severe cases of anxiety a combination of medication and psychotherapy is typically recommended.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most researched and scientifically proven psychotherapy for treating anxiety in children. CBT is a very practical and easy to understand treatment approach that emphasizes the here-and-now and the development of effective coping skills and strategies. In children, more emphasis is typically placed on behavioral interventions than on the development of insight.
Certain medications (i.e., SSRIs) are commonly used to treat anxiety in children and like psychotherapy have been proven to be effective. While the use of medication to treat anxiety in children has grown steadily over the past couple of decades there remains concern regarding the safety of some medication use in children. For more information regarding the use of medications in treating depression in children click here to visit the NIMH website on the matter.
Family therapy
Family therapy is also commonly recommended for children who are experiencing anxiety. Family therapy aims to help parents and caregivers learn how to more effectively provide support create a less stressful environment for the child. Individual therapy with children is more effective when parents and/or caregiver take an active role in treatment.