Most children experience worry or fear from time to time, and these emotions are a natural part of life. However, when anxiety becomes extreme and unmanageable, it may be a sign that a child needs professional help. Early and accurate identification of childhood anxiety is critical to a proper diagnosis, which is then necessary for effective treatment. Luckily, a few well-established tools exist for screening and assessment of children’s anxiety symptoms.
There are many types of assessments available for assessing children’s anxiety symptoms, including questionnaires, surveys, clinical interviews, and behavioral assessments. Each type of assessment has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, but it’s important to choose a tool that is valid and reliable. Validity refers to how accurately an assessment measures what it intends to measure, while reliability indicates how consistent and stable the assessment’s results are over time.
A few of the most widely used assessments for identifying anxiety in kids include the GAD-7, SCARED, and PHQ-A. These tests can be used in conjunction with a client intake form to help identify the need for a more comprehensive anxiety evaluation and treatment plan.
It is also essential that clinicians use culturally sensitive techniques when conducting an anxiety assessment. This involves avoiding biases and understanding how different cultures perceive anxiety, and it also means adapting assessment techniques to ensure that children and their parents feel comfortable and trust the clinician.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to screening and assessment, there are a few general recommendations that can be made based on a child’s age and risk factors. It is recommended that children over 8 years of age be screened for anxiety disorders, and it is particularly important to screen for anxiety in youth who are at higher risk, such as those with genetic predispositions, trauma history, or parenting style that promotes anxious behaviors (overprotective parents, conflict between parental partners).
Screening for anxiety should take place at regular intervals throughout childhood and adolescence, preferably every six months. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, and there is a growing body of evidence supporting both psychotherapy and pharmacologic treatment for anxiety. Often, these treatments are combined, and the benefits of both are enhanced when they are provided at an early age.
It is also important to recognize that anxiety symptoms can be misinterpreted by adults as oppositional behavior or disobedience, and it’s imperative that a healthcare professional conduct a structured clinical interview with a child and their parents in order to obtain a complete picture of the symptoms and their impact on a child’s life. In addition, creating a supportive home environment and providing access to encouraging friends and family can be helpful in reducing the intensity of a child’s anxiety symptoms. For more information about anxiety in children, check out the article Does My Child Have Anxiety? by ADDitude.