Anxiety problems are characterized by worry, fearfulness, and often avoidance of certain situations. Children with anxiety problems can also appear fidgety or complain of stomach problems or illnesses. They may ask a lot of “what if” or “will this happen” type questions.
Anxiety is the most common childhood mental health problem; approximately 10-20% of children and adolescents are affected by persistent and excessive worry. However, some experts have suggested that anxiety disorders in children are undertreated. One explanation for this is that children may only report physical symptoms such as stomach and headaches, rather than describe feelings of “worry” or “fear.”
Untreated, children with anxiety disorders can experience impaired social relationships and school functioning, and disrupted family functioning. Therefore, early identification and treatment is imperative.
Treating Child Anxiety:
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for children and adolescents is typically a short-term treatment (i.e., often between 6-20 sessions) that focuses on teaching young people and their parents specific skills. CBT focuses on how a person’s thoughts (i.e. cognitions), emotions, and behaviors are connected and how they affect one another. For example, if a child sees a mouse and thinks “its going to get me!,” the emotion that follows is likely fear and the action might include screaming or running away. On the other hand, if the same child thought instead, “a mouse–how cute!,” different emotions and behaviors will likely follow. Because emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are all linked, CBT approaches allow for therapists to intervene at different points in the cycle. Cognitive-behavioral therapy was associated with less fatigue, insomnia, sedation, and restlessness than psychiatric medications used to treat anxiety.
Medication can also be helpful if the anxiety is severe enough that it interferes with your child’s daily activities. Additional information about using psychiatric medication to treat children and adolescents can be found at The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Additional Resources Related to Child Anxiety: