What to Do When Children Are Anxious

When children are chronically anxious, even the most well-meaning parents can fall into a negative cycle and, not wanting a child to suffer, actually exacerbate the youngster’s anxiety. It happens when parents, anticipating a child’s fears, try to protect her from them. Here are pointers for helping children escape the cycle of anxiety.

1. The goal isn’t to eliminate anxiety, but to help a child manage it.

2. Don’t avoid things just because they make a child anxious.

3. Express positive—but realistic—expectations.

4. Respect her feelings, but don’t empower them.

5. Don’t ask leading questions.

6. Don’t reinforce the child’s fears.

7. Encourage the child to tolerate her anxiety.

8. Try to keep the anticipatory period short.

9. Think things through with the child.

10. Try to model healthy ways of handling anxiety.

To read the full article from the Child Mind Institute, click here.

Anxiety vs. Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety is a normal part of childhood, and every child goes through phases. Some may eat only orange foods or count in twos. Others may have an imaginary friend or have recurring nightmares about monsters under the bed.

The difference between a phase and an anxiety disorder is that a phase is temporary and usually harmless. Children who suffer from an anxiety disorder experience fear, nervousness, shyness, and avoidance of places and activities that persist despite the helpful efforts of parents, caretakers, and teachers.

Anxiety disorders tend to become chronic and interfere with how your child functions at home or at school to the point that your child becomes distressed and uncomfortable and starts avoiding activities or people.

Unlike a temporary phase of fear, such as seeing a scary movie and then having trouble falling asleep, reassurance and comfort is not enough to help a child with an anxiety disorder get past his or her fear and anxiety.

Take an anxiety screening at Then talk to your doctor, who can help you figure out what’s normal behavior for your child’s age and development level. Your doctor can refer you to a mental health professional, if necessary, for a more complete evaluation.

Is treatment necessary? Will my child’s anxiety disorder go away on its own?

Like other medical conditions, anxiety disorders tend to be chronic unless properly treated. Most kids find that they need professional guidance to successfully manage and overcome their anxiety. And while family support is important to the recovery process, it is not the cure. (Also beware of any product or program that guarantees a cure or is peddled online or in TV infomercials.) Many licensed mental health professionals have the training, education, and experience to properly diagnose and treat your child.

In addition, research shows that children with untreated anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, to have less developed social skills, and to be more vulnerable to substance abuse. That’s why it’s important to get help as soon as possible. Your child deserves a future that is free from the limitations of anxiety.

The above information is directly from the Anxiety Disorders Association of America's (ADAA) handout on anxiety disorders in children. To access the full handout, click here

Keep in mind...

This information is not exhaustive and at the same time, can be overwhelming. Information can be helpful, but it also can be tempting to do your own diagnosis. If you have concerns about your child experiencing any kind of anxiety, talk to one of the school counselors. We can help guide you on whether or not it is developmentally-appropriate levels of anxiety, or if it's something that needs to be brought to the attention of your doctor.

Books & Resources

Hey Sigmund: Articles on Supporting Kids and Teens with Anxiety

Freeing Your Child From Anxiety

by Tamar Chansky Ph.D.

This book is full of great information. It goes through what's going on in the anxious child's brain, how to seek treatment, and specific strategies you can use with your child to decrease their anxiety.

By Karen Young

Kids can do amazing things with the right information. Understanding why anxiety feels the way it does and where the physical symptoms come from is a powerful step in turning anxiety around. Anxiety explained, kids empowered.

For ages 5-12 (and up).

Don't let ANTS steal your happiness! What exactly are these ANTs? Automatic Negative Thoughts … and Captain Snout says we can use his super power questions to overcome the tough stuff and be heroic too!

Watch Read Aloud Video

Promoting grit and a growth mindset in children has also been found to reduce anxiety. For more information on how to do this, visit the "Grit and Growth Mindset" page under the Social Emotional Resources section.

For more information on finding a mental health counselor, you can visit the "Counseling" page under the Caregivers section.

For book read-alouds about anxiety, visit the "Books" page under the Students section.

Sadly, children who experience an anxiety disorder are more likely to self-harm or have suicidial thoughts. Please visit the "Suicide/Self-Harm" page for more information.