Childhood Anxiety Disorders


Anxiety disorders are the most common behavioral health concern in the U.S., affecting about 8% of children and teens. At Mercy, we help kids manage childhood anxiety disorders so they can get more enjoyment from life.

Anxiety in Adolescence

Adolescents with anxiety disorders experience extreme worry and fear that’s persistent and interferes with daily living. They get excessively anxious about everyday issues, such as grades, friends, family and their physical safety. At Mercy, our pediatricians and behavioral health experts diagnose and treat many types of anxiety disorders in adolescents and young children.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in Children

For children with GAD, excessive worries and fears can become a chronic state. They struggle to stop the worry cycle, which may impact their school attendance, academic performance, participation in extracurricular activities, and peer and family relationships. The risk of developing GAD is highest between childhood and middle age.

Separation Anxiety Disorder in Children

Kids with separation anxiety disorder display an age-inappropriate fear of being separated from their parents or away from home. They may refuse to go to school, be alone or sleep alone. Frequent nightmares and physical complaints like headaches and stomach upset are common in children with an anxiety disorder. 

Social Anxiety Disorder in Children

Children with social anxiety disorder are often very shy around strangers and don’t like interacting with people. They often resist going to school and socializing with their peers, so they tend to have few friends outside the family. If forced into a social situation, a child with social anxiety disorder may become angry or upset.

Specific Phobias in Children

Specific phobias are irrational fears of certain objects or situations, such as storms, the dark, animals, insects or heights. Kids with phobias experience significant distress and may have panic attacks when faced with the situations and objects they fear.

What Causes Anxiety in Children?

Feeling worried or scared at times is a normal part of childhood. Kids can get anxious for many reasons, from major changes like starting a new school to everyday events like taking a big test. While many kids overcome these anxieties, some struggle to let go of the worry, fear and sorrow they experience. This can lead to childhood anxiety disorders. 

Causes & Risk Factors

Several factors can cause or worsen anxiety in children. While characteristics like gender or family history can’t be controlled, children’s anxiety is also triggered by stressful events like trauma or illness.

Gender - Girls have a higher risk of developing anxiety disorders. Some studies show they’re up to twice as likely as boys to have the condition.

Genetics - Anxiety often runs in families. Children of parents who have anxiety disorders are seven times more likely to develop the condition. And experts say 65% of children living with anxious parents meet the criteria for anxiety disorders.

Brain Chemistry - The brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine are involved with many body functions, including mood and emotion. Imbalances in these chemicals can cause anxiety and depression. 

Temperament - Children who are cautious, fearful, shy and tend to avoid people, objects or situations are more prone to developing anxiety disorders.

Environment Traumatic events like divorce, illness or death in the family can trigger anxiety in children. And family members who are noticeably anxious or stressed can increase children’s anxiety.

Medication Side Effects - Medicines and over-the-counter drugs used to treat allergies, asthma and other conditions can cause or worsen your child’s anxiety. Discuss medication side effects with your Mercy pediatrician.

Anxiety Symptoms in Children

Kids who have anxiety disorders may also be quiet, distracted or shy, so it’s easy to mistake their symptoms. But if left untreated, anxiety disorders can worsen over time. It’s important to watch for feelings or physical signs that your child may need help with anxiety. 

Emotional Symptoms

Children with anxiety often experience constant feelings of dread and nervousness. They’re watchful for signs of danger and may appear tense or jumpy. Persistent restlessness or irritability are also common emotional symptoms.

Physical Symptoms

Physical signs of anxiety in kids include shortness of breath, a racing or pounding heart, twitches, tremors or excessive sweating. Children may also experience headaches, tiredness, sleep problems, upset stomach, frequent urination or diarrhea.

Let your Mercy pediatrician know if these emotional or physical symptoms are disrupting your child’s life.

Diagnosis & Treatment for Anxiety

If your child is experiencing signs of an anxiety disorder, it can be overwhelming. Mercy's behavioral health experts are here to help with treating childhood anxiety.

Learn about childhood anxiety diagnosis & treatment options here.  

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