It is quite likely treatment for anxiety in childrenwill be successful, but only a small fraction of those who need help get it.
Anxiety disorders consist of worry, anxiety or distress that is out of proportion with a given situation and is sometimes constant. Many children suffer from various types of anxiety disorders, with symptoms starting to manifest around age six. Research has shown that the earlier a child receives treatment for anxiety, the better off they will be.
Both therapy and medication are available as treatments for anxiety in children and often a combination of approaches is most successful. Improvement is often seen in 2-6 weeks. Ideally parents, or other important figures in the child's life, also take part in the treatment.
However, treating children with anxiety can be challenging, as often more than one form of anxiety is present. For example, the child may have a phobia of insects and also have separation anxiety disorder. More than one treatment may need to be tried before a successful option is found.
Treatment for Anxiety in Children – Medication
Medicating children is always a concern, but in many cases, medication combined with therapy is a better treatment for anxiety in children than therapy alone. Some medications are FDA approved for treating some types of anxiety in children while other medications are often prescribed off-label (practice of prescribing pharmaceuticals for an unapproved indication or in an unapproved age group, unapproved dose or unapproved form of administration).
Medications used for treating anxiety in children are typically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants. These medications are known to have anti-anxiety properties and those with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval have been in use in other populations for decades. SSRIs are used for long-term anxiety treatment and are generally prescribed for one year or more.
Another medication for treating anxiety in children is benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are sedatives that are sometimes used in short-term anxiety treatment in children.
Some of the specific medications approved to treat anxiety in children include:1
- Fluoxetine (Prozac) –an SSRI approved for obsessive-compulsive disorder age 7-17
- Fluvoxamine (Luvox) – an SSRI approved for obsessive-compulsive disorder age 8-17
- Sertraline (Zoloft) – an SSRI approved for obsessive-compulsive disorder age 6-17
- Diazepam (Valium) – a benzodiazepine approved for use as sedative age six months and up
Here is a complete list of anxiety medications. Keep in mind that not all medications on this list can be used in children.
Therapy as Treatment for Anxiety in Children
Therapy can be a very effective treatment for anxiety in children. Behavioral and cognitive behavioral therapies have the most positive research behind them.
Behavioral therapies for anxiety include:
- Relaxation techniques
- Exposure to feared situation in clinical setting
Cognitive therapies for anxiety treatment include:
- Identifying and altering self-talk
- Challenging irrational beliefs
Children are also taught about anxiety disorders as a part of therapy. One way of reducing anxiety in children is to teach them to look for the early warning signs of anxiety and then implement a coping plan.
Dealing with Anxiety in Children
There are many things parents and other caregivers can do when dealing with anxiety in children. Aside from formal treatment, reducing anxiety in children can also be achieved by:
- Providing a safe and stable home life including a reliable routine
- Paying attention to your child's feelings
- Staying calm when the child is feeling anxious
- Praising accomplishments and not punishing for experienced anxiety
- Teaching positive coping skills and strategies
- Promoting self-esteem and self-confidence
- Learning about anxiety in children
Using these positive coping and strength-building techniques has been clinically shown to reduce anxiety in children.