Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Children
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Feb 4, 2024.
What is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)?
GAD is a condition that causes your child to worry or feel nervous about daily activities. Your child is not able to control the anxiety and feel calm. Your child may worry about his or her health or the health of a parent. He or she may worry about relationships or about being in danger. Anxiety can also happen without a cause.
What increases my child's risk for GAD?
- A parent with an anxiety disorder
- Stress at home, school, or in relationships
- Use of caffeine or nicotine products
- Certain medicines or health conditions, such as diabetes
- Changes in your adolescent's body or emotions caused by puberty
- Not feeling accepted for the way he or she looks, thinks, or acts
What other signs and symptoms may occur with GAD?
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Fatigue (being mentally and physically tired) or muscle tightness
- Shaking, sweating, restlessness, or irritability
- Problems focusing
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling jumpy, easily startled, or dizzy
- Rapid heartbeat or shortness of breath
How is GAD diagnosed?
Your child's healthcare provider will ask when symptoms began and what triggers them. The provider will ask if anxiety affects your child's daily activities. Tell your provider about your child's medical history and if he or she has family members with a similar condition. Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your older child's past and present nicotine or drug use.
How is GAD treated?
Healthcare providers will treat any medical condition causing your child's symptoms. Your child may also need any of the following:
- Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can help your child find ways to feel less anxious. A therapist can help your child learn to control how his or her body responds to anxiety. The therapist may also teach your child ways to relax muscles and slow breathing when he or she feels anxious.
- Medicines can help your child feel more calm and relaxed, and decrease symptoms. Medicines are usually used along with therapy or other treatments.
The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.
What can I do to help my child manage GAD?
- Be supportive and patient. Younger children may cry or act out as a way of showing anxiety. Try to remember that your child may have trouble controlling this behavior. Tell your child about your own anxiety and what helps you feel better. Do not force your child to do something. Start with small steps and build up. For example, have your child meet 1 other child at a time. Your child may become more comfortable in group settings if he or she is first comfortable with a group of friends.
- Encourage your child to talk with someone. Your child may want to talk to a friend or to an adult who is not a parent.
- Help your child practice deep breathing to relax. Have your child take slow, deep breaths several times a day, and before social events. Tell your child to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Activities such as yoga, meditation, or listening to music while deep breathing can help your child relax even more.
- Help your child create a sleep routine. Regular sleep can help your child feel calmer during the day. Have your child go to sleep and wake up at the same times each day. Do not let your child watch television or use the computer right before bed. Your child's room should be comfortable, dark, and quiet.
- Offer your child a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, fish, whole-grain breads, and cooked beans. Healthy foods can help your child feel less anxious and have more energy. Do not let your child have foods or drinks that are meant to increase energy. These can interfere with your child's sleep if taken in the afternoon or later. Do not let your child have caffeine. Caffeine can make anxiety symptoms worse.
- Talk to your adolescent about not smoking. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can increase anxiety. Ask your adolescent's provider for information if he or she currently smokes and needs help to quit. E-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your adolescent's provider before he or she uses these products.
Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:
- Your child has chest pain, tightness, or heaviness that may spread to his or her shoulders, arms, jaw, neck, or back.
- Your child says he or she feels like hurting himself or herself, or someone else.
When should I call my child's doctor?
- Your child's symptoms do not get better with treatment.
- Your child has new or worsening symptoms.
- You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.
Care AgreementYou have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
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Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.