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Anxiety is a normal part of a child’s development. It is our body’s way of preparing us for unfamiliar
and potentially dangerous experiences. As children grow, they are often faced with new situations and
experiences that can cause feelings of fear and anxiousness. For younger children, this could be meeting
new people or starting school, while for older children and teens, this could be sitting an exam at school,
speaking in public or entering a sports race. In these situations, anxiety can help children be more alert
and focused.

However, in some cases, anxiety can be difficult to control and start interfering with a child’s ability to
participate in daily tasks. If your child is experiencing anxiety more significantly than others their age,
they may need additional support or be showing signs of an anxiety disorder.

What are anxiety disorders?

Anxiety disorders may be diagnosed when a child’s feeling of anxiousness is considered more excessive, persistent or irrational than what is considered normal for their age and situation. They often present with persistent psychological, physical and behavioural changes that interfere with a child’s ability to perform daily tasks.

Some of the most common anxiety disorders experienced by children include:

Generalised Anxiety Disorder is an excessive and irrational worry about everyday situations and events and activities like school, making friends, performance in sports, health or world events. Children with Generalised Anxiety Disorder often experience lack confidence and self esteem and may seek frequent reassurance.

Social Anxiety Disorder, or social phobia, is an intense and persistent fear of being judged in social situations. Children who experience social anxiety may feel self-conscious and have difficulty making friends, speaking up in class and performing in front of others.

Separation Anxiety Disorder is an intense worry or distress caused by being away from their parent or caregiver. In older children, this can also be a fear of something bad happening to a loved one while they are away. Children with Separation Anxiety may refuse to leave the house or stay at school without their parent or caregiver. Feelings of anxiety caused by separation is normal for children under two years of age where this is a new experience for them.

Panic Disorder is a condition where a child experiences frequent and unexplained panic attacks and constant fear over the occurrence of another attack. Panic attacks are a sudden onset of intense physical symptoms of anxiety such as a racing heart, difficulty breathing and shaking.

Signs of anxiety in children

There are a number of signs and symptoms that could indicate your child may be struggling with feelings of anxiety. These may vary depending on the type of anxiety they are experiencing and not all are obvious.

Children with anxiety may experience a combination of psychological, physical and behavioural symptoms.

Signs may include:

  • rapid heart rate and breathing
  • restlessness and irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • mind going blank
  • persistent worry
  • trouble sleeping
  • changes in appetite
  • shaking and dizziness
  • stomach pain or vomiting
  • headaches and muscle pains
  • avoidance of places and activities

Diagnosis and treatment

There is no one test that can determine whether a child has anxiety. If your child is showing signs of anxiety, an important first step is visiting a GP or paediatrician to rule out any other medical conditions.

Speaking with a psychologist can also help your child understand their feelings of anxiety and provide them with coping strategies to help them manage their anxiety.

Learning Links offers a range of services that can support treatment of your child’s anxiety.

Assessments – Learning Links’ Psychologists conduct assessments to evaluate concerns around anxiety and can make a formal diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety Disorder or an alternate diagnosis around anxiety. Read more >

Psychological support – Children who present with anxiety may benefit from well researched intervention such as cognitive behavioural therapy. Learning Links’ Psychologists can support children and help with strategies and ways to cope. Read more >

Social Skills and School Holiday Programs – Learning Links offers specific anxiety-based small group interventions such as ‘Take Action’, ‘Playing and Learning to Socialise (PALS)’ and ‘Zones of Regulation’. Our group programs are available during school terms and during the school holidays. Each program teaches children practical strategies to cope with their anxiety and regulate their emotions.

Social Skills Programs >

Speech Therapy – Learning Links’ speech pathologists can assist your child to communicate their needs correctly to ensure levels of worry are reduced.  Read more >

Specialist Tutoring – Learning Links’ specialist teachers provide individualised literacy and numeracy programs that cater for your child to re-teach areas your child may have missed or is feeling anxious about and utilise strategies to promote ongoing learning.  Read more >

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Helping Children with Anxiety

Whether your child has a diagnosis or not, there are lots of simple ways to support them with their anxiety.

  • Ask your child about their feelings e.g. ‘You seem to be worried a lot lately, I am concerned’
  • Encourage them to talk to others they trust like a friend, teacher or school counsellor
  • Find activities that help your child to relax such as listening to music or drawing
  • Practice breathing and mindfulness exercises
  • Encourage, but don’t force, your child to do the things that make them feel anxious
  • Provide opportunities for positive socialisation and reinforcement
  • Organise a referral to a psychologist
  • Encourage your child to contact services such as ‘Kids Help Line’

Financial assistance for children with anxiety

Children with anxiety may be eligible to receive Medicare rebates for up to 20 sessions with a mental health professional through the Better Access to Mental Health Care initiative.

A mental health care plan from your GP or referral from a psychiatrist or paediatrician is required if seeking to claim Medicare rebates through the Better Access to Mental Health Care program.

Additional resources

Beyond Blue: Anxiety

Kids Helpline

Be You

Headspace: What is anxiety and the effects on mental health