Anxiety and anxiety disorders factsheet


Anxiety is a common experience that children may have as they grow up. 

Anxiety can include feelings of stress, worry, or fear in response to: 

  • situations and environments
  • thoughts and emotions
  • interactions with other people.

Children might feel anxious when they are:

  • separated from a parent or carer, like at school or day-care drop-off
  • worried about social situations and relationships, like making friends or meeting new people
  • upset or scared by a situation, like sleeping with the lights off or reading out loud in front of their class.

Anxiety can be a normal response to stressful situations, and many children can grow out of anxiety as they get more comfortable with new places, people, and things.

For some children, anxiety:

  • does not go away
  • is not an appropriate level compared to the situation
  • causes negative changes to how they live and interact with others.

When this happens, it may be a sign that your child has an anxiety disorder.

An anxiety disorder is a mental health condition where anxiety interferes with your child’s ability to live their life.

 Signs and symptoms

Anxiety is a normal feeling. It can be difficult to know if your child has normal anxiety in response to a situation or an anxiety disorder.

Some signs that your child might have an anxiety disorder include:

  • feelings of anxiety impact their ability to do things like go to school or play with friends
  • they no longer enjoy activities
  • feelings of worry are about things that are not age-appropriate, for example, a 5-year-old worrying about money
  • feelings coming on quickly and getting worse over time
  • taking a long time to feel better
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • becoming clingier or not wanting to leave parents and carers
  • avoiding certain situations and becoming distressed if they cannot.

Physical signs of anxiety can include:

  • changes in sleep - having trouble falling and staying asleep or sleeping too much
  • headaches
  • stomach aches
  • sweating
  • feeling shaky
  • loss of appetite
  • crying more than usual.


Take your child to your local doctor if you are concerned about their anxiety. The doctor will ask you about your child’s medical history, symptoms and how the anxiety affects their daily life.

Some anxiety disorders include:

  • generalised anxiety disorder – severe, ongoing anxiety that affects everyday life
  • social anxiety – severe, ongoing anxiety about social situations and other people
  • separation anxiety – severe distress at the thought or action of being separated from parents or caregivers
  • phobia – severe, ongoing fear of a specific object or situation, for example, a phobia of birds or heights
  • panic disorder – unexpected and repeated panic attacks
  • selective mutism – when a child stops speaking in certain situations due to anxiety.

Your child may be referred to a paediatrician, psychologist, or psychiatrist to treat and manage an anxiety disorder.


Early intervention for anxiety disorders is important as it can lead to other conditions like depression and substance abuse in later life. Your child’s doctor can refer you to a paediatrician, psychologist, or psychiatrist for specialised treatment of their anxiety disorder.

Anxiety can be treated or managed with:

  • cognitive behavioural therapy
  • medication
  • treatment of any other health issues
  • good support from family and caregivers.

Your child’s treatment team will work with you to make a treatment plan.


Causes of anxiety disorders

There are lots of reasons why a child might develop an anxiety disorder, including:

  • genetics – children are more at risk of anxiety disorders when they have family members who have them as well
  • environment – factors like religion, culture, housing, and family structure
  • trauma – experiencing trauma like domestic violence, abuse, fleeing from war or having ongoing health issues
  • learned behaviour – having a parent, carer or family member who shows strong anxious behaviour can affect anxiety levels in children.

Supporting children with anxiety

Parents and carers can support children who are anxious or have anxiety disorders by:

  • getting help for their child early, as soon as anxiety is identified
  • trying to manage and treat their anxiety
  • encouraging your child to learn coping strategies rather than avoiding, being overprotective or doing things for your child
  • find ways to soothe or distract your child in situations that can cause anxiety, like going to the doctor
  • practice relaxation like deep breathing, mindfulness, and meditation.

Resources and more information

Macquarie University - Sydney, Australia

Centre for emotional health

Provides resources including questionnaires and factsheets for children & adolescents.
Related Links
ParentLine NSW

Parent Line NSW

Phone1300 1300 52
Online advice and support as well as phone line support for parents, run by trained counsellors.
Related Links - The Australian Parenting Website

Raising Children Network

The Australian parenting website covering a range of topics for children ranging from newborns to teens.
Related Links
Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Phone1300 224 636
This website offers a teen self-help online program, as well as great up-to-date information and support.
Related Links
headspace - National Youth Mental Health Foundation


Phone1800 650 890
Provides help and support for young people aged 12-25 at centres across Australia, online or over the phone for mental health, general health, alcohol and drug and work.
Related Links


Information and resources to help people (including children and teenagers) understand and improve their mental health.
Related Links
Last updated Tuesday 27th February 2024


This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.

© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024