Anxiety in Children

Worry & Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

What is Worry or Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterised by excessive and uncontrollable worry about a variety of events, and is often accompanied by physical symptoms including stomach aches, restlessness, muscle tension, pounding heart, and headaches. Children and adolescents with GAD can worry about a variety of issues, more intensely and often than same-aged peers, including:

  • Their safety (e.g., “What if a robber breaks into the house?”)
  • The future (e.g., “What if I don’t get into university?”)
  • Family issues (e.g., finances, parental discord, sibling discord)
  • Their own health
  • Health of family members
  • Friendship groups
  • Performance based activities or schoolwork

Children with GAD are often overly self-critical of themselves and tend to avoid engaging in activities in which they feel they may not be able to perform perfectly. These children tend to seek reassurance from caregivers and teachers about their performance; unfortunately, this reassurance only provides fleeting relief from their worries. GAD is relatively common in children and tends to begin gradually. Symptoms tend to worsen in times of stress, and worries can switch from one concern to another with time and age.

Symptom Checklist

  • Does your child worry about a variety of things (e.g., homework, health, school or sport performance, money, world events)?
  • Does your child worry more than same-aged peers?
  • Does your child feel the need to do tasks perfectly?
  • Does your child feel afraid to ask or answer questions in class?
  • Does your child find it hard to perform during tests?
  • Have you noticed your child complaining about feeling sick when they are worried?
  • Does your child tend to find new and unfamiliar situations difficult?
  • Does your child frequently seeking reassurance?
  • Does it appears your child is often daydreaming?
  • Does your child have trouble sleeping at night?

What Treatment is Recommended for GAD?

Research has repeatedly shown that childhood GAD can be successfully treated through psychotherapy, with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) being the treatment of choice. CBT has been demonstrated to be significantly more effective than other psychological treatments. CBT for GAD incorporates strategies teaching children how to cope with change, uncertainty in everyday life, unrealistic perfectionistic ideals, and practical strategies to manage everyday worries.

Sources & Useful Resources