Children and Anxiety

Sometimes people are surprised to learn that children can suffer from anxiety.

Just like adults, children can experience feelings of inadequacy, or worry, nervousness and apprehension about an event with an uncertain outcome.

children and anxiety

If you are a parent, concerned about your child and anxiety, you may have noticed the following symptoms:

  • concentration difficulties;
  • restlessness;
  • avoidance behaviours;
  • increased heart rate;
  • trembling or shaking;
  • feeling lightheaded or faint;
  • numbness or tingling sensations;
  • upset stomach or nausea;
  • sweating.

Fortunately, there is much that can be done to help.

Anxiety in children can take many forms:

Types of Anxiety in Children

Separation Anxiety Disorder

  • Excessive anxiety of being separated from those to whom the individual is attached;
  • Distress when anticipating or experiencing separation from home or attachment figures (a parent);
  • Excessive worry about losing a major attachment figure, or possible harm to them;
  • Refusal or reluctance to go out due to fear of separation;
  • Fear of being alone without a major attachment figure;
  • Reluctance or refusal to sleep away from home or the major attachment figure;
  • Repeated nightmares involving separation;
  • The avoidance has lasted at least 4 weeks in children and adolescents.

Selective Mutism

  • Failure to speak in social situations, despite speaking in other situations;
  • Must last for at least one month.

Specific Phobia

  • Extreme anxiety or fear of particular objects or situations;
  • In children the fear or anxiety may be expressed by crying, tantrums, freezing, or clinging;
  • Must last for up to six months and be persistent during this time.

Social Anxiety Disorder

  • Severe anxiety about being criticised or negatively evaluated by others;
  • Fears of meeting unfamiliar people;
  • Being observed; and
  • Performing in front of others.
  • In children this may be expressed by crying, tantrums, freezing, clinging, shrinking, or failing to speak in social situations;
  • In children, the anxiety must occur with children their own age and not just with adults.

Panic Disorder

  • Repeated sudden surges of overwhelming fear and anxiety;
  • May include chest pain, choking, shortness of breath, dizziness, or fear of dying.


  • Fear of being in open or closed places; crowds; outside of the home alone;
  • The fear or anxiety must last for more than 6 months.

Generalised Anxiety Disorder

  • Excessive worry about daily situations;
  • Must be occurring most days for more than six months.

anxiety in children

Treating Anxiety in Children

If you are concerned that your child is having troubles with anxiety, it’s a good idea to seek out professional help with a psychologist experienced in working with children.

The first appointment will usually involve a discussion with you and your child about the problem and any background history; you may be asked to complete questionnaires, which are specially designed to help your psychologist understand the potential factors that might be contributing to the anxiety.

A treatment plan is then developed; and will generally involve teaching you and your child, specific coping strategies to help minimise their anxiety symptoms. These may include CBT, mindfulness, exposure therapy, and relaxation strategies, modified according to the age of your child – for example, using activities such as play therapy, drawing, the use of feeling cards, discussing values and setting goals for the child.

Author: Cassandra Gist, BPsych (Hons), Cassandra Gist Psychologist BrisbaneMPsych, MAPS.

Brisbane Psychologist Cassandra Gist works with clients aged from two years old right through to adulthood. She has a special interest in working with children and their families around the diagnosis and treatment of issues such as anxiety, ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Cassandra Gist, try
Online Booking – Loganholme or Online Booking – Mt Gravatt .
Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129, or Vision Psychology (Mt Gravatt) on (07) 3088 5422.