Most children at different times in their lives experience some form of anxiety. The anxiety can be a part of a phase or an adjustment to a transition or due to a certain stressor in their lives.  The difference between a phase and an anxiety disorder is that a phase ends while often times an anxiety disorder gets worse. Children who suffer from anxiety disorders experience fear, nervousness and often avoid activities or going places.  

Anxiety disorders affect approximate 12% of children.  Research has shown that gone untreated, children who have anxiety disorders are at a higher risk for difficulty in school, social issues and abusing drugs or alcohol to relieve the pain that the anxiety creates.  

Anxiety disorders often co-occur with depression, eating disorders and ADHD.  

The good news is that with treatment and your help and support, children can learn to manage their anxiety and live a happy, healthy childhood.  

Childhood Anxiety Disorders

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Children with GAD worry excessively about a variety of things – family, grades, friendships,  performance.  They are can be very hard on themselves and strive for perfection.  They may also seek constant approval and or reassurance. 

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

OCD is characterized by unwanted and intrusive thoughts and feelings (obsessions) followed by ritual behaviors (compulsions) that ease feelings of anxiety.  Most children who suffer from OCD are diagnosed around the age of 10, but children can also we diagnosed by the age of two or three. 

PANDAS is a proposed kind of OCD that occurs in childhood following the body's reaction to infection.  It is thought that the body's immune reaction to infection, not the strep infection is what causes the OCD symptoms. For more information on PANDAS go to

Panic Disorder

A child needs to have at least two panic attacks or unexpected anxiety attacks to be diagnosed with a panic disorder, followed by at least one month of worrying that another anxiety will happen.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 

Children with PTSD have severe fear and anxiety and symptoms exhibited are often an avoidance of people, places and irritability after witnessing a traumatic or life-threatening event. 

Separation Anxiety Disorder

It is normal for children between 18 months and 3 years to experience anxiety and stress when parents leave them but most of the time when they become engaged in a new environment (day care) their anxiety subsides.  If your child is older and unable to leave you or another family member your child may have separation anxiety disorder.  The onset of this disorder is typically seven to eleven years of age.  Children with SAD often have a lot of difficulty going or staying at school, sleeping over with friends and in general leaving the person or persons that they have trouble separating from.  This disorder affects approximately 4% of children.  Children with SAD have excessive worry about bad things happening to their parents or caregivers while they are apart from them.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Children with social anxiety disorder have intense anxiety and fear about social situations or performance situations and activities where they would be called upon.  This disorder can significantly impair your child’s performance in school as well as her ability to socialize with peers and develop and maintain relationships. 

Selective Mutism

Children with selective mutism refuse to speak in certain situations and not in others.  Children suffering from selective mutism may stand motionless and expressionless, and turn their heads, chew or twirl hair, or withdraw to avoid conversations.  The average diagnosis is between ages 4 and 8 years old. 

Specific Phobias

A specific phobia is the intense, irrational fear of a specific object, such as a dog, or a situation such as flying.  Common childhood phobias include animals, storms, water, medical procedures and the dark.  When confronted with these feared objects, the typical behaviors are temper tantrums, clinging, avoidance, headaches and or stomachaches.  Unlike adults, they do not recognize that their fear is irrational. 


The most accepted treatment for childhood anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy with or without the assistance of medication.  Play therapy is useful for children who cannot express their feelings and thoughts.