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Overview of Anxiety Disorders in Children


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Nov 2020| Content last modified Nov 2020
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What are anxiety disorders?

Anxiety is being worried, scared, or nervous. Some anxiety is common and normal at all ages. For example, many young children are afraid of the dark. Older children are often anxious when they have a test.

However, anxiety may become a disorder if:

  • Children are anxious a lot of the time even when they aren't having problems

  • What they're anxious about isn't that bad

  • Their anxiety gets in the way of daily life and causes problems at home or school

Children can have many of the same anxiety disorders as adults. These include generalized anxiety, panic attacks, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and specific fears (phobias).

Other anxiety disorders occur mainly in children or are different in children. These include separation anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder (fear of being judged).

Generally, with anxiety disorders:

  • Children may refuse to go to school and give excuses such as a stomach ache as the reason

  • The disorders can run in families

  • Many children who have an anxiety disorder struggle with anxiety in adulthood

  • Treatment usually helps, including talking to a therapist and sometimes taking medicine

What are the symptoms of anxiety disorders in children?

Children and teens with an anxiety disorder commonly:

  • Refuse to go to school

  • Talk about their anxiety, saying things like “I’m worried that I’ll never see you again” or “I’m worried kids will laugh at me”

  • Complain of physical symptoms—anxiety can cause an upset stomach, nausea, and headaches

How can doctors tell if my child has an anxiety disorder?

Your doctor asks about symptoms. If your child has a lot of physical symptoms, such as stomach aches or headaches, doctors may do tests for physical disorders that can cause those symptoms.

How do doctors treat anxiety disorders in children?

Doctors treat anxiety disorders in children with:

  • Behavior therapy, where a therapist gradually exposes your child to the situation that causes anxiety so that, over time, your child becomes less anxious

  • Sometimes, medicine

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