Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a mental health problem. A child with GAD has a lot of worry and fear that seems to have no real cause. The worry may be more intense than the situation calls for. Children or teens with GAD often worry about many things, such as:
All children and teens have some anxiety. It is a normal part of growing up. But sometimes worries and fears don’t go away. They may interfere with a child’s normal activities. In these cases, an anxiety disorder may be present.
Experts believe GAD is caused by both biological and environmental factors. A child may inherit a tendency to be anxious. An imbalance of 2 chemicals in the brain (norepinephrine and serotonin) most likely plays a part.
A child can also learn anxiety and fear from family members and others. For example, a child with a parent who is afraid of thunderstorms may learn to fear thunderstorms. A traumatic event may also cause GAD.
Children who have parents with an anxiety disorder are more likely to develop GAD. Children who seem more restrained as toddlers may be at more risk for GAD.
Unlike adults with GAD, children and teens usually don’t realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation calls for. Children and teens with GAD often need frequent reassurance from the adults in their life.
Each child may have different symptoms. But the most common symptoms of GAD are:
The symptoms of GAD may look like other health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
A child psychiatrist or other mental health expert can diagnose GAD. He or she will do a mental health evaluation of your child.
Children and teens with GAD can’t just pull themselves together and get better. They often need treatment. In many cases, treatment is key to recovery. Untreated, GAD can get worse or become a long-term problem. Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
Treatment for GAD may include:
Experts don’t know how to prevent GAD in children. If you notice signs of GAD in your child, you can help by seeking an evaluation as soon as possible. Early treatment can ease symptoms and enhance the child’s normal development. It can also improve his or her quality of life.
As a parent, you play a key role in your child’s treatment. Here are things you can do to help:
Call your healthcare provider right away if your child:
GAD may increase a child’s risk for suicide. Threats of suicide are a cry for help. Always take such statements, thoughts, behaviors, or plans very seriously. Any child who expresses thoughts of suicide should be evaluated right away.
Call 911 if your child has suicidal thoughts, a suicide plan, and the means to carry out the plan.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
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