All kids feel worried or anxious from time to time, but when that anxiety becomes persistent and interferes with daily life, they may need help. You can tell your child is struggling with an anxiety disorder if they cry easily, act irritable or angry often, or have difficulty concentrating or sleeping. Some children can also have physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches or fatigue. For most children and teens, the best treatment for anxiety is psychotherapy, but for some, pharmacotherapy is needed as well.
The team of experts at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at New York University, diagnoses and treats a wide range of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, separation anxiety, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and selective mutism (a condition in which children and teens refuse to speak in certain situations).
Experts recommend cognitive behavioral therapy as the most effective method for treating anxiety. It teaches your child healthy ways to cope with anxiety and provides “homework” they can practice throughout their lives. Children and teenagers will learn to change their negative patterns of thinking and behaviors and replace them with more positive ones. They will also receive exposure and response prevention therapy, which involves gradually exposing your child to the things that trigger their anxiety in a safe and controlled environment until they begin to believe that these situations will not result in the negative outcomes they fear.
Another type of psychotherapy that has been proven effective in reducing anxiety is called cognitive restructuring therapy, which helps children reframe their worries into more manageable thoughts and changes how they perceive their anxieties. It is a highly individualized form of psychotherapy that can be used in conjunction with other therapies, and it can even be taught in group settings for older teens and adults.
If your child is reluctant to seek help, they can access specialist NHS mental health services through their local authority or GP, or through Youth Access, which offers a telephone advice line and online counselling. They can also speak to their school counsellor, who can refer them to an appropriate therapist.
Medication can be an important part of a child’s anxiety treatment plan, particularly for those with severe and debilitating symptoms. Your child’s prescribing clinician can choose the most suitable medication for your child’s specific needs. Medications typically take several weeks to reach their full effect and, in most cases, should be combined with psychotherapy. However, research shows that teaching parents strategies to support their child’s anxiety can reduce symptoms as effectively as medications alone. This approach is known as parent-based cognitive behavioral therapy or SPACE. Learn more about this innovative approach here.