Time, unfortunately, cannot heal all wounds. And in the case of childhood anxiety disorders, untreated symptoms can linger and grow into more formidable anxiety in adulthood.

If left to worsen, a child's anxiety disorder can also interfere with developing friendships and relationships and with school and career success. And unchecked anxieties have been linked to substance abuse and risk for other mental health issues, like depression, eating disorders, and suicide.

The good news is that treatments are available to help children cope better with their anxiety symptoms.

Therapy for children's anxiety disorders
The most common type of therapy used to treat childhood anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is considered a form of "talk therapy," in which a child and their therapist have conversations meant to identify and replace negative, unrealistic thinking patterns and behaviours. It sets itself apart from other "talk therapies" by focusing on learning and applying cognitive and behavioural strategies to manage anxiety.

In addition, unlike other "talk therapies" that may be more focused on providing support, CBT is more problem-focused and goal-oriented, aimed at teaching concrete skills that people can apply in their day-to-day lives. Over the course of therapy, children learn skills, strategies, and techniques to relax and to recognize and reduce their own anxiety.

Family therapy might also be an option, providing a safe dialogue about the child's anxiety and how it relates to parents and siblings. Family therapy will often be focused on identifying and modifying family interactions and dynamics that serve to reinforce or worsen the child's anxiety symptoms. A child's anxiety may in fact be caused by overall family stress factors that may need to be addressed.

When a family undergoes therapy together, recovery becomes a family effort rather than solely the child's burden to bear. Parents and siblings can learn constructive, helpful ways to interact with a child who has anxiety so as not to reinforce negative behaviour or worsen symptoms.

Therapists may use a play-oriented approach, using art, toys, and games to engage children in discussion. Role-playing with puppets or modelling positive behaviours can also help to reinforce anxiety-coping techniques.

Find out tips for choosing a therapist who is right for you or your child.

Medication treatments for anxiety disorders
The decision to have a child take anxiety medication will depend on the severity of their symptoms as well as how they respond to such things as therapy and lifestyle changes. Sometimes, in cases of severe anxiety symptoms or when the child is not benefitting from psychological treatments, medications may help ease anxiety enough so that the child may actually be better able to engage in psychological treatments and benefit from them more.

Not all medications for anxiety can be prescribed to children, and parents will need to monitor the child closely for changes in behaviour.

If you are unsure about medication to treat your child's anxiety disorder, speak to your doctor about your concerns and questions. Some good questions to ask include:

  • How will this medication help my child?
  • How long will my child need to take this medication?
  • What are the risks of taking (or not taking) the medication?
  • How long will it take to see results?
  • What are the most common side effects of medication?