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Anxiety disorders in children

It isn't just adults who get anxiety. Learn about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for anxiety in children and teenagers.

It's normal for children to feel worried or anxious from time-to-time. For example, when they're starting school or nursery, or moving to a new area.

But for some children, anxiety affects their behaviour and thoughts every day. It can interfere with their school, home and social life.

This is when you may need professional help to tackle it.

Symptoms of anxiety in children

Signs to look out for in your child are:

  • finding it hard to concentrate
  • not sleeping, or waking in the night with bad dreams
  • not eating properly
  • quickly getting angry or irritable, and being out of control during outbursts
  • always worrying or having negative thoughts
  • feeling tense and fidgety, or using the toilet often
  • always crying
  • being clingy
  • complaining of tummy aches and feeling unwell

Separation anxiety is common in younger children. Older children and teenagers tend to worry more about school or have social anxiety.

How to help your anxious child

If your child is having problems with anxiety, there's plenty you can do to help.

Above all, it's important to talk to your child about their anxiety or worries.

See more self-help tips for parents of anxious children.

It's a good idea to seek professional help if your child is always anxious and:

  • it's not getting better or is getting worse
  • self-help isn't working
  • it's affecting their school or family life, or their friendships

Where to get help for anxiety

An appointment with your GP is a good place to start.

Talk to the GP on your own or with your child. If your child is comfortable they could speak to the GP without you being in the room, with your consent.

Early intervention for anxiety is helpful. For mild levels of anxiety you can be referred to, or self-refer to, your local Primary Care Psychology service. Young people age 12-18 can attend their local Jigsaw service - if available in your area.

Your child may be referred to the local child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS).

CAHMS can help if your child has not benefited from a primary level intervention or the child is experiencing it to a moderate to severe level.

If your child doesn't want to see a doctor, they may be able to get help from a local youth counselling service.

Treatments for anxiety disorders in children

The type of treatment offered will depend on your child's age and the cause of their anxiety.

Counselling

Counselling can help your child understand what's making them anxious. It can allow them to work through the situation.

Cognitive behavioural therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps you manage problems by thinking more positively. It frees you from unhelpful patterns of behaviour.

Anxiety medicines

Anxiety medicines may be offered to your child if their anxiety is severe, or doesn't get better with talking therapies. These medicines are prescribed by doctors who specialise in child and adolescent mental health.

What causes anxiety disorders in children

Some children are born more anxious and less able to cope with stress than others.

Children can develop anxious thoughts and avoidant behaviours by seeing how others manage anxiety.

Some children develop anxiety after stressful events, such as:

  • moving house or school often
  • parents fighting or arguing
  • the death of a close relative or friend
  • becoming seriously ill or getting injured in an accident
  • school-related issues like exams or bullying
  • being abused or neglected

Children who experience significant anxiety can also experience other mental health difficulties. Depression is the most common.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE.

Page last reviewed: 23/09/2018
Next review due: 23/09/2021

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