If a child’s anxiety symptoms last longer than a few weeks or interfere with daily activities, talk to their primary care provider or mental health specialist about getting an evaluation. Some of these symptoms could also be caused by other conditions, like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Once a diagnosis is made, your child’s doctor can recommend a treatment plan that’s best for them. For kids with mild to moderate levels of anxiety, experts recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapy helps children learn to cope with their fears and teaches them skills to use on their own. Kids who have severe anxiety may benefit from a combination of CBT and medication.
Medications for anxiety are used to reduce physical symptoms, such as a racing heartbeat or trembling, and they can help ease some of the emotional distress that comes with these symptoms. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the medications of choice to treat anxiety. They are very effective and can be given to children of all ages. However, it’s important to know that SSRIs can cause a child to stop reacting to stressors, which can lead to a return of their anxiety symptoms. It’s also important for parents to talk with their child’s doctor if they notice any negative side effects.
Psychotherapy is a form of talking therapy that focuses on helping kids understand their thoughts and feelings, and change negative patterns into more positive ones. It’s especially helpful for kids who have a difficult time expressing their emotions.
One of the most proven forms of psychotherapy for anxiety is called exposure-based cognitive behavioral therapy. It involves working with a therapist to identify and face the things that trigger anxiety, slowly and in controlled ways. It’s hard work, but kids and parents often see progress as they watch their fears melt away over time.
Many children who have anxiety disorders are at risk for other conditions, including depression. Symptoms of these disorders can mimic those of anxiety, making it challenging for a parent to recognize when their child needs help. In one study, Ginsburg and colleagues found that the more anxious a child’s parents are, the more likely they are to develop anxiety disorders in themselves and their children.
If a parent’s anxiety or accommodating behaviors contribute to their child’s symptoms, it’s important for those parents to seek counseling themselves and seek support from their medical provider. This will allow them to better understand the challenges their child is facing and offer the support they need.
Creating regular routines can give kids a sense of stability, which can help them feel safe and supported. Try setting aside regular family time for activities your kids enjoy. It’s also a good idea to teach your kids relaxation and meditation techniques, as these have been shown to decrease stress and anxiety in both adults and children.