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  • John Roberts

Generalized Anxiety-disorder (GAD) in children and young people

Having a child that worries excessively can be upsetting to parents. As parents we want our children to thrive, live happy and adjusted lives in order for them to be successful. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a common mental health problem in children. Symptoms of GAD involve marked distress and interfere with social, emotional, and educational functioning. GAD can occur in over 10% of children and adolescents, has an average age of onset of 8.5 years, and is more often reported in girls. Common co-occurring conditions include separation anxiety disorder and social phobia.

For the child that worries, their worries can be both realistic and non-realistic. For example children commonly worry about:

  • Future events

  • Past behaviors

  • Social acceptance

  • Family matters

  • Their personal abilities

  • School performance

  • Disasters

  • Accidents or untoward events occurring to themselves or loved ones


Symptoms of GAD may include:

  • Many worries about friends, school, or activities

  • Almost constant thoughts and fears about the child’s safety or the parents’ safety

  • Refusing to go to school

  • Frequent stomach aches, headaches, or other physical complaints

  • Muscle aches or tension

  • Sleep problems

  • Lots of worry about sleeping away from home

  • Clingy behavior with family members

  • Feeling as though there is a lump in the throat

  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)

  • Lack of concentration

  • Being easily startled

  • Being grouchy or irritable.

  • Inability to relax


Having GAD is not something a child can simply ‘get over’ or ‘get on with’. Persistent, excessive worrying is exhausting both for the child and their parents and calls for expert help.

Like all anxiety disorders, children and teens with GAD become anxious when they are faced with a trigger for their worries. Usually, this trigger is uncertainty in their lives. Michel Dugas, and Melisa Robichaud (2006) describe this as akin to a peanut allergy. One microbe of uncertainty becoming anaphylactic-like in the reaction it causes; and the worries are off again! Thus, children with GAD become anxious whenever there is uncertainty or they are unsure about something. As most things in life are uncertain young people with GAD tend to worry about anything and everything. There will be always something to worry about!

So, what should a parent do about the child with GAD? First, there are some highly effective self-help or online resources to avail of.

The Canadian site: Strategies for Children with Generalized Anxiety Disorder | Here to Help is a useful starting point. For those wishing to access guided self-help in the form of books, Sissy Goffs, “Better, Stronger, Smarter” (ISBN 13 978-0764233418) or Renee Jain and Shefali Tsabary’s “Superpowered: Transform Anxiety into Courage, Confidence and Resilience” (ISBN 13 978-059312641) are effective resources and beginnings.

Alternately of course, you could make an appointment to see the Worry Man if things do not work out. The Worry Man provides effective bespoke Cognitive and Behavioral solutions for GAD online. 

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