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Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 3, 2022.

What is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)?

GAD is a condition that causes your child to worry more than normal. It also causes your child to feel fear in most situations. He or she will worry or be afraid even without a cause. Your child may worry about his or her health, and how well he or she does in sports or at school. He or she may also worry about relationships and being in danger. It is hard for your child to control his or her worry and feel calm. GAD prevents your child from doing his or her regular activities. It may also prevent your child from spending time with family and friends. Without treatment, your child's anxiety may get worse.

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 anxiety?

  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Fatigue or muscle tightness
  • Shaking, sweating, restlessness, or irritability
  • Problems focusing
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling jumpy, easily startled, or dizzy
  • Rapid heartbeat or shortness of breath

What should I tell my healthcare provider about my child's anxiety?

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.

  • Medicines can help your child feel more calm and relaxed, and decrease symptoms. Medicines are usually used along with therapy or other treatments.
  • Cognitive behavior therapy 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.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

What can I do to help my child manage anxiety?

Your child may be given medicines to help him or her feel calm and relaxed, and to decrease other symptoms. Medicines are usually given together with counseling or other treatments. The following are ways to help your child manage anxiety:

  • Be supportive and patient. Younger children may cry or act out as a way of showing anxiety. Try to be patient and remember your child may have trouble controlling this behavior. Let your child tell you what makes him or her feel anxiety. Tell your child about your own anxiety and what helps you feel better. Do not force your child to do something he or she is too anxious to do. You can help your child feel more comfortable by starting with small steps and building up. For example, let your child practice a school presentation with a family member or friend. Then add more family members or friends when your child is comfortable. These small steps can help your child feel more comfortable with the presentation.
  • Encourage your child to talk with someone about the anxiety. Help your child find someone to talk to if he or she does not want to talk to a parent. Your adolescents may feel more comfortable talking to a friend who is his or her age. Your child's healthcare provider may recommend counseling. Counseling may be used to help your child understand and change how he or she react to events that trigger symptoms.
  • Help your child relax. Activities such as yoga, meditation, mindful activities, or listening to music can help your child relax.
  • Help your child practice deep breathing. Deep breathing can help your child relax when he or she is anxious. Your child should learn to take slow, deep breaths several times a day, or during an anxiety attack. Tell your child to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.
  • 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 every day. Do not let your child watch television or use the computer right before bed. His or her room should be comfortable, dark, and quiet.
  • Talk to your adolescent about not smoking. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can increase anxiety. Ask your adolescent's healthcare provider for information if he or she currently smokes and needs help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your adolescent's healthcare provider before he or she uses these products.
  • 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.
    Healthy Foods
  • Encourage your child to be physically active. Physical activity, such as exercise, can increase your child's energy level. Exercise may also lift your child's mood and help him or her sleep better. Your child's healthcare provider can help you create an exercise plan for your child.
    Black Family Walking for Exercise
  • Do not let your child have caffeine. Caffeine can make anxiety symptoms worse. 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.

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 get worse or 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 Agreement

You 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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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.