Anxiety is a normal part of growing up, but when it becomes overwhelming or interferes with a child’s life, there are many treatments available. Experts at Duke Behavioral Health provide child anxiety treatment that includes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other talking therapies, as well as medication to ease symptoms.
CBT helps children learn coping skills to manage the thoughts, situations or objects that trigger anxiety. A therapist can also teach breathing and relaxation techniques, and use mindfulness, or being present in the moment, to help a child learn to control their thoughts and feelings.
A therapist will talk with you and your child, asking questions to understand how and when the anxiety and fears happen. A therapist can also help you determine if your child has an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, separation anxiety disorder, selective mutism (a condition where a child is afraid to speak in certain circumstances), or phobias.
Anxiety can affect a child’s behavior and emotions, and in extreme cases may lead to depression or substance abuse. A therapist can also check if another health condition is causing the anxiety, such as a thyroid problem, a brain tumor or a heart disease.
Some children are more prone to anxiety than others, but most kids can overcome it with a little help. Getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and spending time with supportive friends and family all promote mental and emotional health. Practicing meditation or breathwork can improve anxiety, and getting enough sleep is vital for a child’s physical and emotional health.
For older children who are struggling with severe anxiety, our therapists can provide family therapy sessions and a series of one-on-one CBT sessions. For some children, a combination of CBT and anti-anxiety medications can be more effective than either alone.
Medications can help to ease some of the symptoms of anxiety, including depression and high blood pressure. These can be given orally, or by injection. SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are the most commonly used antidepressants for children.
Anxiety is often accompanied by feelings of sadness, guilt and shame, which can make it difficult for children to seek mental health care. Some kids are uncomfortable with the idea of “talk therapy,” and may prefer to try self-help strategies at home.
Children and young people with anxiety disorders can access treatment through their GP, who can assess them on their own or with their parents. They can also be referred to a psychiatric service through children and young people’s mental health services (CYPMHS). If your child doesn’t have an anxiety disorder, they will usually be advised to see their GP for a health checkup. This will help ensure that they are getting all the nutrients they need and that their health is in good shape. If they do have an anxiety disorder, a GP will refer them for a specialised mental health assessment. Anxiety treatment for children is available through a range of public and private providers, such as headspace and This Way Up.