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Pediatric Generalized Anxiety Disorder

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is defined as uncontrollable, ongoing worry, fear, and anxiety (nervousness). This type of anxiety has to continue for at least six months to be considered a disorder. Children and teens with GAD worry too much about things such as school, family members, social acceptance, the future, natural disasters, or world events. Worry and anxiety can make it difficult for a child or teen to participate in family and social activities and can cause a great deal of distress. GAD is one of the most common disorders seen in both medical and mental health settings.

What are the symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

The most common symptoms of GAD in children and teens, ages six to 18, include:

  • Excessive anxiety about things before, during, and after they happen
  • Excessive anxiety about safety and health, including the safety and health of loved ones
  • Excessive anxiety about school that causes a child or teen to avoid going to school
  • Frequent stomachaches, headaches, or other physical complaints
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Clingy behavior with family members
  • Need for a great deal of emotional comfort from parents
  • Lack of energy or extreme tiredness
  • Lack of attention and focus
  • Bad temper or ongoing low mood

How is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Diagnosed?

At Children’s National, child psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals may interview the child or teen and his or her parents. We may have the patient and family fill out questionnaires about different aspects of the child’s or teen’s life, including physical health concerns, difficulties at school, or behavior with friends and family.

Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Following a full assessment, a member of the Children’s National care team will discuss treatment options with the child or teen and his or her family. Both cognitive behavioral treatment (CBT) and certain types of medicines are effective in treating GAD in children.

  • CBT includes working with a therapist to help the child or teen (and his or her family) learn how to cope with feelings of anxiety and nervousness. During treatment, patients learn to gradually face their worries and learn how to manage their anxiety.
  • The child or teen also may learn different ways to relax and new sleep habits and how to interrupt worried thoughts.
  • The medicines that may be recommended are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medicines affect neurotransmitters (nerve cells in the brain that carry signals) linked to anxiety.
Children's Team

Children's Team




Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Children’s National offers assessment, diagnosis and care for children and teens with behavioral, emotional and developmental disorders.

Psychology and Behavioral Health

In the Division of Psychology and Behavioral Health, our child psychologists and other mental health professionals work exclusively with children and teens, emphasizing patient and family-focused care.

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