Child & Youth Anxiety

Feeling anxious is a human experience that, in moderation, keeps us safe, and can even motivate us. When anxiety is experienced excessively it becomes a debilitating force in our lives. This is no different for children and youth.

It’s common for young children to be fearful of things that adults might easily dismiss, such as the dark and monsters lurking under the bed. However, if you notice your child’s inability to have fun, interact with others or behave in a manner typical for their age, then perhaps your child may be struggling with anxiety.

In older children, the pressures of school, relationships (friends, family, and romantic interests), self-imposed high standards, other pursuits such as sports, arts, hobbies, volunteering, and if they’re older – employment – can be very challenging and may lead to issues coping with anxiety. 

SIGNS & SYMPTOMS of anxiety in children & youth

Children and youth may experience anxiety differently but there are some common things to watch for:

Emotional symptoms

  • Overwhelming fears of things that are normally not seen as scary
  • Regressing to a younger, or infantile state
  • Lack of concentration
  • Trouble performing in school
  • Mood changes
  • Behaviour changes
  • A sudden change in marks or performance
  • Damaging behaviour (to self, others, or property)
  • Avoiding activities outside of home
  • Inability to stop worrying
  • Being easily startled and/or quick to panic
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Dependence on parents
  • Need for constant reassurance

Physical symptoms

  • Nightmares
  • Lack of appetite or overeating
  • Lack of concentration
  • Headaches
  • Frequent stomach aches
  • Self harm
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Trembling, muscle tension
  • Diarrhea
  • Breathing difficulty (inability to take a deep breath, shallow breathing
  • Heart palpitations


If you notice your child is exhibiting some of the symptoms listed above, and their daily activities are being affected, or if you notice mood or personality changes, see their marks suddenly drop or a decline in their performance on sports teams or at other activities, are alerted by a teacher or coach’s concerns, or if your child just seems to be “off’ it may be time to seek help.


There are various treatments for anxiety in children and youth – many dependent on the age of the child. Psychotherapy treatment for adolescents experiencing anxiety has a high success rate! In one study, 77% of Canadian youth remained free of generalized anxiety for at least one year after short term psychotherapy. Early intervention is a key factor.

  • Art Therapy allows children and youth to use their imagination to explore their feelings and thoughts and to visually express those thoughts and emotions. Young people, when their motor skills exceed their verbal skills, get more out of art therapy than talk therapy alone. Like Play Therapy, Art Therapy is a form of non-verbal communication that allows children and youth to express themselves.
  • Play Therapy refers to a large number of treatment methods, all of which make use of one or more of the natural benefits of play. Play allows younger children a safe psychological distance from their problems and allows them to express their true thought and feelings in ways best suited to their developmental level.
  • Psychotherapy is a broad term that encompasses numerous styles of therapy and employs verbal or nonverbal communication with a client to help treat psychiatric problems, behavioral issues, personality disorders, and various other types of emotional distress. This form of personal counselling is based on an interpersonal relationship, as opposed to the alternative chemical or physical forms of therapy. As the therapist creates dialogue, you are able to learn more about your moods, behavior, feelings, and thoughts. Understanding these factors helps you to control your life and handle certain situations healthily.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence based approach to treatment that focuses on how your thoughts, emotions and beliefs influence your behaviour and how you perceive yourself, others and the world. CBT has been shown to be effective in dealing with anxiety because it helps you to change those negative thoughts, feelings, emotions and projections on a subject matter or circumstance and help you to learn more effective ways of dealing with your anxiety. This approach uses sound techniques to slow down, halt and eliminate your own learned reactions. Ultimately, CBT deals with those circumstances and events that you’re aware of, rather than dealing with circumstances and events relating to your unconscious. Through a sound therapeutic process, you’ll learn to respond differently to issues and circumstances, and you’ll learn healthy coping mechanisms.


If anxiety is affecting your child’s life, please know that things can get better for them and for you! Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns in Canada. Our therapists at Insight can help your child to alleviate the symptoms caused by anxiety by selecting a treatment or combination of therapies that will work best for them. Our child psychologists also treat children after traumatic events. If the child has just lost a parent or family member, or has been abused, it is advisable to have them see a psychologist. Professional help will allow the child to process the traumatic event, and transition into the new changes in their life.

Insight has therapists who specialize in treating children and adolescents. If your child or teen is struggling, please contact us.