Treating Anxiety in Children: Treatment Options & Tips for Parents

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 7% of children in the U.S. between the ages of 3 and 17 have been diagnosed with anxiety. Children with mental disorders experience unique struggles that affect how they learn, socialize, and develop into adults. Fortunately, there are effective treatment options and resources for parents to help their children.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by Wake Forest University’s Online Master’s in Counseling program.

How treatment strategies and resource materials can help children overcome anxiety.

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Children with Anxiety: Signs & Statistics

Rates of anxiety have reached alarming heights in recent years, especially in children. Among children ages 3 to 17, 73.8% with depression also have anxiety. 37.9% of children ages 3 to 17 with anxiety also have behavior problems. Unfortunately, only 59.3% of children in that age range with anxiety have received treatment.

A greater percentage of adolescents ages 12 to 17 have anxiety compared to kids in the 3 to 5 and 6 to 11 age groups. While Caucasian children have higher anxiety symptoms in high school, African American children have a higher rate in elementary and middle school.

There are several notable signs associated with anxiety that parents should track. These include excessive worrying, restlessness, difficulty focusing, excessive irritability, recurring panic attacks, avoiding social situations, and irrational fears.

Treating Anxiety

Cognitive-behavioral therapy and various medications have been studied extensively and proved effective in treating anxiety in children.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is based on the principle that actions and beliefs are affected by feelings. The exposure and response prevention technique used by CBT exposes children to things that trigger their anxiety in a safe and controlled setting. During treatment, children can unlearn detrimental coping behaviors like seeking assurance, escaping, avoidance, and ritualistic behavior like hand washing. Over time, children learn how to respond to triggers without feeling anxious.

Studies have shown CBT is most effective when patients are also taking medication. Studies also show that CBT can be an effective way for children to learn how to manage anxiety. CBT is also considered to be most effective for treating severe anxiety. It’s also considered helpful for separation anxiety, phobias, social anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

CBT does carry a few drawbacks. For instance, the therapy may not be suitable for patients with learning difficulties or other complex mental health conditions. CBT also doesn’t address problems in systems or families that can’t be changed by the patient.

Medication: Medication prescribed to help children with anxiety falls into two categories. The first category is antidepressants. While they’re fast-acting compared to other medications, some may be unsafe for children and teens with major depression. The second category is Benzodiazepine, which is a medication noteworthy for its ability to reduce intense activity without any serious side effects. The main drawback to using Benzodiazepine is that it’s not effective for long-term use.

Attention Bias Modification Treatment (ABMT): ABMT is a newer, promising treatment option that’s also been found effective by numerous studies. The treatment is built on the notion that individuals with anxiety tend to excessively focus on threatening information. Computer-based attention training programs are designed to help reshape this attention bias toward threatening information and reduce anxiety.

In a study of six children, ABMT helped significantly decrease anxiety and depressive symptoms. Results like this give it promise as an effective option for patients who didn’t respond to CBT. However, it’s still a relatively new treatment option and it needs more research.

Tips and Resources for Parents

Parents can take steps to help reduce their children’s anxiety. In addition, reading the latest research can offer valuable information about new treatment options.

Tips for Parents with Children Suffering from Anxiety

Parents should encourage children to face their fears. They should also assure children that they don’t have to be perfect and emphasize positivity instead of criticism. Additionally, they should schedule calming activities for their kids. Parents can also demonstrate positive ways to respond to anxiety-provoking situations. Rewarding brave behavior is also important for parents to help children cope with anxiety, as is maintaining a bedtime routine. Parents should also encourage expression of anxiety as opposed to suppression and denial. Additionally, parents can help children learn how to solve problems. Finally, parents can practice relaxation exercises with children.

Useful Resources

There are several key resources parents can utilize to help them develop positive strategies that can help their children cope with anxiety. WorryWiseKids.org allows parents to access useful information and tips on parenting children with anxiety. Anxiety and Depression Association of America enables parents to read up on the latest studies and treatments being developed to fight anxiety. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry is a nonprofit organization engaging in research and advocacy for children, adolescents, and families affected by mental health disorders. Finally, the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies is an organization with an online referral service that provides access to mental health professionals across more than 100 specialties.

Empowering Children to Face Their Fears

Though statistics of anxiety among children can be disheartening, mental health professionals should encourage parents to take steps to empower their children and pursue a healthier future together.