Specializing in Behavioral Healthcare for Children &

Adolescents, Families, Couples, and Adults.†












Anxiety disorders are among the most common psychological disorders occurring in children and adolescents. As many as one in every 10 children may suffer from an anxiety disorder.† With adolescents, more girls than boys are affected by an anxiety disorder, and about half of the children with an anxiety disorder also have a second anxiety disorder or some other emotional or behavioral disorder, such as depression.


Research psychologists have found that a personís basic temperament may play a role in the development of an anxiety disorder in childhood or adolescence.† For example, some children tend to be very shy when in an unfamiliar situation. This may be a sign that the child or adolescent is at risk for developing an anxiety disorder.† Researchers also suggest watching for signs of anxiety disorders when children are between the ages of six and eight. At this age, children grow less afraid of the dark and imaginary creatures, and become more anxious about school performance and social relationships. High levels of anxiety in a child aged six to eight years may be a warning sign that the child is at risk for developing an anxiety disorder later in life.


Studies suggest that children or adolescents are more likely to have an anxiety disorder if they have a parent who has an anxiety disorder. However, genetics is not the sole cause of an anxiety disorder, and an individualís environment plays a large part, too.††


Children and adolescents with an anxiety disorder often experience extreme fear and worry to a point where their day-to-day functioning is impaired.† If not treated appropriately, an anxiety disorder can worsen, and can severely impact a childís life by contributing to:††


 Excessive absences from school

 Poor peer relationships

 Low self-esteem

 The use of alcohol or other drug

 Problems adjusting to work situations

 Anxiety disorder in adulthood.


There are a number of different anxiety disorders that affect children and adolescents. Here is a brief description:††


Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Children and adolescents with this disorder experience extreme, unrealistic worry that does not seem to be related to any recent event. Typically, these young people are very self-conscious, feel tense, have a strong need for reassurance and complain about stomachaches or other discomforts that donít appear to have any physical basis.


Phobias: A phobia is an unrealistic and excessive fear of some situation or object. Some phobias, called specific phobias, center on animals, storms, water, heights or situations, such as being in an enclosed space. Children and adolescents with social phobias are terrified of being criticized or judged harshly by others. Because young people with phobias will try to avoid the objects and situations that they fear, the disorder can greatly restrict their lives.


Panic Disorder: Panic disorder is marked by repeated panic attacks without apparent cause. Panic attacks are periods of intense fear accompanied by pounding heartbeat, sweating, dizziness, nausea or a feeling of imminent death. The experience is so scary that the young person lives in dread of another attack. He or she may go to great lengths to avoid any situation that seems likely to bring on a panic attack. A child with panic disorder may not want to go to school or be separated from his or her parents.


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: This disorder is characterized by a pattern of repetitive thoughts (obsessive) and behaviors (compulsions). Sometimes the symptoms are distressing to a child, but they are unable to stop themselves.† Obsessive thoughts may entail fears and worries, and compulsive behaviors may include repeated hand washing, counting or arranging and rearranging objects, or similar acts.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Post-traumatic stress disorder can develop in children or adolescents after they experience a very stressful event. Such events may include physical or sexual abuse; being a victim of or witnessing violence; or being caught in a disaster, such as a bombing or hurricane. Young people with post-traumatic stress disorder experience the event again and again in strong memories, flashbacks or troublesome thoughts. As a result, the young person may try to avoid anything associated with the trauma. They may also overreact when startled or have difficulty sleeping.


What Help is Available for a Child or Adolescent with an Anxiety Disorder?

Children and adolescents with anxiety disorders can benefit from a variety of treatments and services.† After an accurate diagnosis is obtained by a qualified child psychologist or psychiatrist, possible treatments include a combination of individual therapy, family therapy, parent training, and (in some cases) psychotropic medication.


While cognitive-behavioral approaches are effective in treating some anxiety disorders, medications work well with others. Some anxiety disorders benefit from a combination of these treatments. In general, more studies are needed to find which treatments work best for the various types of anxiety disorders.


A child or adolescent in need of treatment or services and his or her family may need a plan of care based on the severity and duration of symptoms. Optimally, this plan is developed in concert with the family, and whenever possible the child or adolescent should be involved in making treatment decisions as is appropriate.


What Can Parents Do?

When parents notice signs and symptoms of an anxiety disorder in a child or adolescent, they should locate a child/adolescent psychologist or psychiatrist who has training and experience working with children and adolescents with anxiety and mood disorders.† The doctor will determine if your childís symptoms are caused by an anxiety disorder or by some other psychological condition.


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Copyright © 2004-2007 Robert M. Newell, Ph.D. All rights reserved.