Anxiety in Children and Adolescents (page 3)

— NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 21, 2010

When to be concerned about a child's anxiety

During certain developmental stages anxiety in children is a normal response. For example, stranger anxiety in children ages 7 to 11 months, and separation anxiety in children from 8 months to 3 years, is a healthy, protective response.

For example, when a 2-year-old child is afraid of leaving his mother that fear will protect him from wandering alone into potentially dangerous situations. Young children may have short-lived fears, such as fear of the dark, animals, etc. But when an 8-year-old is afraid of leaving his mother, that's a problem.

Anxiety becomes a problem when it interferes with a child's daily activities. For example, if a child is so worried about leaving her parents that she won't go to school, or if she is so worried about what others will think of her, that she can't enjoy her extracurricular activities and friends, she may be experiencing excessive anxiety. If left untreated, over time, anxiety can compromise a child's self concept, school performance may decline, and peer relationships may become strained. Existing problems such as family tension may worsen, and may even lead to additional problems, like reluctance or refusal to attend school.

How anxiety is treated

Anxiety disorders are the most common psychological disorders, affecting up to 18 percent of the American population at some point in life. Fortunately, anxiety disorders are also highly treatable; 90 percent of those treated for anxiety recover fully. Treatment for anxiety is based on an extensive body of scientific research which has focused on identifying which treatments are most suitable and effective for the specific form of the disorder. When formulating a treatment plan, the mental health professional takes into account many factors, including the level of distress experienced by the child and the degree of social, academic, and family disruption.

The two modalities for treatment of anxiety disorders are medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Medication for anxiety disorders acts directly on the central nervous system to calm an individual and reduce anxious behaviors.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for anxiety disorders involves a two-step process: targeting anxious thoughts, and then targeting anxious behaviors. Through this process an individual learns in a step-by-step fashion how to master situations that cause anxiety. The individual is taught strategies such as relaxation techniques and phrases to help when anxiety is at its height. For some children, a combination of medication and CBT is the most effective course of treatment. The length and type of treatment varies by disorder, and treatment for one anxiety disorder may not be appropriate for another. Learn more about CBT in our related article, Cognitive Behavior Therapy: What Is It and How Does It Work?

How parents can help

The following are some helpful tips for dealing with an anxious child:

  • Helping your child avoid or escape anxious situations only perpetuates her anxiety. Instead of rescuing her, encourage the child to work through her fears, and praise efforts aimed at coping. In this way she will learn not to rely on others to make her feel better.
  • Question the child about what's happening and encourage him/her to think about what to do.
  • Children model their parents' emotions and behaviors and look to parents for clues on how to respond to a situation. Manage and monitor your own reactions to anxiety-provoking situations as well as your response to your child's expressed anxiety.


About the NYU Child Study Center

The New York University Child Study Center is dedicated to increasing the awareness of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders and improving the research necessary to advance the prevention, identification, and treatment of these disorders on a national scale. The Center offers expert psychiatric services for children, adolescents, young adults, and families with emphasis on early diagnosis and intervention. The Center's mission is to bridge the gap between science and practice, integrating the finest research with patient care and state-of-the-art training utilizing the resources of the New York University School of Medicine. The Child Study Center was founded in 1997 and established as the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry within the NYU School of Medicine in 2006. For more information, please call us at (212) 263-6622 or visit us at

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