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Anxiety in children

4-minute read

Key facts

  • Anxiety disorders are not just a matter of feeling too anxious. Children with anxiety disorders have fears and worries that cause distress.
  • Children with anxiety may try to avoid situations or issues they’re worried about.
  • Treatment for anxiety disorders in children includes psychological therapy. Lifestyle adjustments may also help.
  • Medicines are rarely recommended to treat anxiety in children.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal part of life and can affect anyone, including children. But as parents and carers, it’s sometimes hard to know the difference between normal worries and something more serious.

In most cases, anxiety in children is short-lived. Some examples of normal worries are:

  • being shy or worrying about being liked
  • being upset for a short while when being left at childcare
  • worrying about schoolwork or sport

Some children experience anxiety more intensely and more often than other children. This stops them from getting the most out of life.

Your child may have an anxiety disorder if:

  • their anxious feelings don’t go away
  • their anxiety seems to be out of proportion to the situation
  • they are starting to avoid places or people

Anxiety disorders are not just a matter of feeling too anxious. Children with anxiety disorders have fears and worries that cause distress. There are several anxiety conditions, or disorders, which can affect children including:

What are the symptoms of anxiety in children?

If your child is often anxious, they might:

  • try to avoid situations or issues they’re worried about (for example, school refusal)
  • get headaches and stomach aches, especially when away from home
  • have trouble sleeping or have vivid nightmares
  • worry often
  • need a lot of reassurance
  • want things to be perfect and get upset if they’re not

One of the main symptoms of anxiety disorders is having trouble coping with fears and worries. Your child may feel overwhelmed by these anxious thoughts.

When should my child see a doctor?

Kids’ mental health is important. If you’re concerned, see your: doctor, a psychologist or a mental health service.

How is anxiety in children diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask your child about their symptoms and how they affect their daily life.

Your child may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder if their symptoms are affecting their ability to function in some way and causes them distress. This may be either at school or socially.

How is anxiety in children treated?

Your doctor will talk with you and your child about the different treatment options. Treatment options for anxiety disorders in children include the following:

  • Psychological therapy, such as: family therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) that is specially adapted for children. These can be face-to-face or online.
  • Rarely, medicines may be recommended to help treat anxiety in children.

People involved in your child’s care might include your: doctor, a psychiatrist or a psychologist, or another type of counsellor.

Lifestyle measures, such as: regular physical activity, play, healthy eating and getting enough sleep may also help with anxiety in children.

How can I support my child with anxiety?

If you think your child has anxiety, you can support them by:

  • acknowledging your child’s fears — don’t dismiss or ignore them
  • gently encouraging your child to do things they’re anxious about
  • waiting until your child gets anxious before you step in to help
  • praising your child for doing something they’re worried about
  • avoiding labelling your child as ‘shy’ or ‘anxious’

You may also want to talk to your child’s teacher and school counsellor for further support at school.

Resources and support

Helping your child overcome anxiety is easier if you seek help. You can find information and support from:

  • headspace — providing services for 12 to 25-year-olds.
  • The Brave Program — an interactive, online program for preventing and treating anxiety in children.
  • This Way Up — digital mental health treatments and online programs.
  • Kids Helpline — information on anxiety. You can also call for support anytime, for any reason on 1800 55 1800. There is also a web chat service available 24 hours a day.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2022

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