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4 min read

My Kid is Always Worried: Parental Options for Treating Child Anxiety

A woman lifting her baby in the air

Anxiety can be a normal part of life, for both adults and children. In children, especially, new experiences can be seen as a threat until they build problem solving skills and coping mechanisms to figure out how to handle them.

In certain cases, anxious childhood emotions can become full-blown childhood anxiety disorders. In fact, research shows that 1 in 5 children will develop what can be considered an anxiety disorder. In this article, we'll take a closer look at anxiety disorders in children, what to look for, and how you can help your anxious child feel better.

Types of Anxiety Disorders in Children and Their Symptoms

As with adults, anxious children can fall into one of several categories of anxiety disorders. Here are a few common ones:

Generalized anxiety disorder. With generalized anxiety disorder, a child may demonstrate excessive worrying over a variety of topics. They may have trouble sleeping or functioning in school or activities because of the severe anxiety they feel. Some of the things that may cause them to worry include:

  • Anxiety about the future
  • Anxiety about their own health or the health of a parent
  • Anxiety about school performance

Social anxiety. Social anxiety disorder is when a child has an intense fear of judgement from others. Anxiety provoking situations for children with social anxiety may include performing, public speaking, meeting new people, or interacting in a group.

Separation anxiety. One of the more common anxiety disorders in children, it is when normal separation anxiety becomes problematic. Separation anxiety is a normal developmental stage that children go through, starting at around 8 months and often lasting until around preschool age. If your child shows extreme distress at being separated from a parent, including during bedtime hours, talk to your pediatrician.

Panic disorder. Panic disorder is when a child experiences panic attacks during times of severe anxiety, or as a reaction afterward. There are often both mental and physical symptoms, including:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Intense fear

Specific phobias. Phobias are when a child's anxiety is related to a specific fear, such as spiders or thunderstorms.

How is Anxiety in Children Treated?

Treating anxiety in children often takes a multifaceted approach. For most children, this means a combination of talk therapy (most often cognitive behavioral therapy), medication, healthy lifestyle habits, and supportive parenting.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to Treat Anxiety in Children

According to the Yale Child Study Center, cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective ways to treat anxiety in children. Cognitive behavioral therapy for childhood anxiety disorders includes teaching coping skills to manage stressful events, learning how to face their fears by implementing small steps, and learning to manage their body's reaction to stress.

These may be taught in an individual or group setting, and often parents are encouraged to participate so they can learn more about the skills their child learns, and support them.

Medications That Treat Childhood Anxiety

Anxiety disorders in children may require medication to help manage symptoms. Some common medications used to treat anxiety in children include:

  • Zoloft
  • Paxil
  • Prozac
  • SNRIs

For children who require medication for their childhood anxiety disorders or other mental health problems, your child's therapist may partner with a child or adolescent psychiatry professional to manage their medication.

Lifestyle Habits for Managing Anxiety Disorders in Children

Parents may not be able to control the circumstances that cause anxiety in children, but they can take steps to help protect their mental health. Some effective ways to support anxious children include:

  • Ensuring that they get plenty of exercise, and time outdoors
  • Promote healthy sleep habits, and make sure they get plenty of quality sleep every night
  • Serve nutrient-dense, well-balanced meals
  • Offer them a safe environment for sharing their fears

How You Can Support Your Anxious Child

Supportive parenting for anxious childhood emotions can include a number of strategies. Here are some effective ways you can help manage your child's anxiety.

Respond to their anxiety in the right way.

According to the Child Mind Institute, how you react to a childhood anxiety can either help to calm a child's anxiety, or make anxiety symptoms worse. Listen to your child, acknowledge their fear, and react with a calm and understanding demeanor.

Show concern and understanding.

Ignoring childhood anxiety or dismissing anxious childhood emotions can make anxious children feel worse. You don't have to buy into their fears, but don't dismiss them. This can lead to disorganized attachment and cause your child to stop sharing their feelings with you.

Be a positive role model for your child.

Your child will look to you for supportive parenting to help them through their anxious feelings. Anxious parents or those with other mental health problems can exacerbate the issue if they leave their own challenges untreated. Get the support you need so that you can better support your child and help reduce anxiety in their life.

Additional Tips for Helping a Child With Anxiety

Pediatric anxiety disorders can be exhausting and beyond a child's ability to handle. Keep an eye on symptoms to ensure that they aren't feeling overwhelmed. You may also look for signs of significant distress or depression. If your child shows any signs of self-harm or suicidal ideation, get help immediately. You can contact the suicide and crisis lifeline by dialing or texting 988 at any time, or in cases of emergency, dial 911.

Obsessive compulsive disorder is no longer considered an anxiety disorder, but many of the symptoms can look similar to those of anxiety disorders. If you notice that your child also exhibits repetitive behaviors or shows obsessive fears that continue to pop up, they may be experiencing obsessive compulsive disorder. You can share this information with your child's medical or mental health provider.

How Soon After Treatment Will My Child Feel Better?

Anxiety symptoms can begin to improve right away, or they may take some time. However, in most cases, anxiety in children improves with treatment. Your child's anxiety may not go away completely, but it may ebb and flow over time. If you notice that the anxiety symptoms getting worse, talk to their therapist or doctor about adjusting treatment. Anxious childhood emotions don't have to negatively impact mental health if they are managed in a healthy way.

Managing Childhood Anxiety Disorders in Brooklyn

No matter how good a parent you are, anxious childhood emotions can develop into childhood anxiety disorders. And while observing anxiety in children may make you nervous as a parent, treating anxiety disorders with therapy is effective.

At Williamsburg Therapy Group, our team of doctoral-level child psychologists offers effective, evidence-based therapeutic treatments for childhood anxiety disorders, whether your child experiences separation anxiety or GAD.

Give us a call today and our patient coordinator will help you find the therapist to help your child navigate normal worries, and build coping skills to manage their childhood anxiety. They can also offer ideas for supportive parenting for anxious childhood emotions and improving mental health for both you and your child.

Book a Therapy Session in Brooklyn Today

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