What Causes Anxiety in Children?

Course excerpt from Anxiety in Children

Anxiety in ChildrenWhy are so many children experiencing anxiety disorders? Mental health professionals have cited many reasons: a decrease in play and physical exercise; hovering, anxious parents; the breakdown of the traditional family; nuclear families moving far away from each other, thereby diminishing a sense of community; technology replacing “real” communication; an overload of information, which often comes in the form of negative news; an overabundance of choices; and the fast pace of our modern world. For this reason, it is important to perform a comprehensive assessment in order to determine the causes of anxiety in each child so that an effective treatment plan can be developed.

Here are some of the factors that can cause anxiety in children:


There is a genetic component to anxiety; in other words, it often runs in families. When a parent is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, a child is seven times more likely to develop one as well. Sixty-five percent of children living with an anxious parent meet criteria for an anxiety disorder.


Children with anxiety have more heightened physiological reactions to stress than children who have calmer temperaments. When children with anxiety experience emotions, their bodies produce more hormones, signaling the brain to impose the flight or fight response. Because of this surge of hormones, it is harder for them to turn off their stress response. Children who are anxious have trouble managing their overwhelming emotions.

Children who are prone to anxiety have the following characteristics:

  • A greater degree of creativity and imagination.
  • Rigid black and white thinking; they may be unforgiving toward themselves and others.
  • Perfectionism—a setup for failure and anxiety because they set unrealistic goals for themselves and focus on minor mistakes and flaws instead of positivity.


Exposure to difficult or traumatic situations such as accidents, fire, abuse, parental discord, or environmental disasters can contribute to a child’s anxiety.

There are a number of behaviors in which parents engage that can unintentionally exacerbate stress in their children. Such behaviors include:

  • Rescuing, reassuring, and overprotecting.
  • Limiting independence.
  • Excessive criticism, judgmental attitude.
  • Excessive expression of fear and anxiety in front of the children.
  • Fighting, arguing, and disharmony; anger and explosiveness.
  • Reinforcing the idea that the world is not a safe place.

Researchers note that over-controlling mothers limit the child’s autonomy, increasing their anxiety by limiting their cognitive sense of being able to cope with the environment. Interestingly, in a two-parent family, when both mother and father were over-controlling, only maternal over-control was associated with child anxiety and difficulty coping.

The good news is that with education, parents can be taught better skills to handle their own anxiety and manage their children’s anxiety as well. Experts suggest that the following parenting behaviors can help buffer their children’s stress:

  • Rewarding coping behaviors.
  • Teaching kids that mistakes are okay.
  • Developing a growth mindset about learning.
  • Learning to manage their own anxiety.
  • Positive communication patterns.
  • Teaching children to problem solve and take risks.

Anxiety in ChildrenAnxiety in Children is a 4-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that focuses on behavioral interventions for children with anxiety disorders. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (2017), it is estimated that 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children, but is often not diagnosed. Untreated anxiety can lead to substance abuse, difficulties in school, and depression. Professionals who work with children, including speech language pathologists, mental health professionals, and occupational therapists, frequently encounter anxiety disorders among their young clients. This course is intended to help clinicians recognize and understand the anxiety disorders that frequently occur in children and learn a wide variety of communication and behavioral strategies for helping their clients manage their anxiety. Included are sections on types and causes of anxiety disorders, strategies for prevention, evidence-based treatments, techniques for helping children manage worry, relaxation techniques for use with children, and detailed discussions on school anxiety and social anxiety. Course #40-43 | 2017 | 69 pages | 25 posttest questions

This online course provides instant access to the course materials (PDF download) and CE test. After enrolling, click on My Account and scroll down to My Active Courses. From here you’ll see links to download/print the course materials and take the CE test (you can print the test to mark your answers on it while reading the course document). Successful completion of the online CE test (80% required to pass, 3 chances to take) and course evaluation are required to earn a certificate of completion. Click here to learn more.

Professional Development Resources is approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC ACEP #5590); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA Provider #3159); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR Provider #PR001); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy (#BAP346), Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635), Dietetics & Nutrition (#50-1635), and Occupational Therapy Practice (#34); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501); the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); and the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678).

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