Get Your Child Screened for Anxiety
If your child is between ages 8 and 18 years, ask the doctor about screening (testing) for anxiety — even if you don’t see signs of a problem.
Why do I need to get my child screened for anxiety?
Anxiety can affect your child’s mood and interfere with their usual activities — like school or time with family and friends.
The good news is that anxiety can be treated with counseling, medicine, or a combination of both. When you ask your child’s doctor about screening for anxiety, find out what services are available in case your child needs follow-up care.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of fear, dread, and worry. It can be a normal reaction to a stressful situation, like taking a test or starting a new school year. But if anxiety doesn’t go away, becomes overwhelming, or interferes with everyday activities, it may be an anxiety disorder.
There are different types of anxiety disorders that can affect children and teens. For example:
- Generalized anxiety disorder: being very worried about the future or about bad things happening
- Separation anxiety disorder: feeling very scared to be away from parents or caregivers
- Social anxiety disorder: being very worried about what others might think or say about them — and often concerned about embarrassing themselves
- Panic disorder: having episodes of sudden, intense fear that involve symptoms like a pounding heart, trouble breathing, or dizziness when there’s no danger
- Phobias: being very afraid of a specific thing or situation, like spiders or the dark
If your child has an anxiety disorder, they may also have headaches, stomachaches, or other types of pain for no clear reason. And they might have trouble sleeping and be very tired during the day.
Keep in mind that some children and teens keep their worries and fears to themselves, which can make it hard to get them the help they need. That’s why it’s so important to have your child screened for anxiety.
To learn more about anxiety in children and teens, check out:
What causes anxiety?
Anyone can have anxiety. It’s not your fault or your child’s fault. Some experiences may make it more likely that a child or teen will develop anxiety. These include experiences like:
- Dealing with a stressful life situation, like a serious illness or a death in the family
- Having problems at school, like being bullied by other kids
- Experiencing trauma or abuse
- Living with someone who has anxiety
- Having a family history of anxiety
What to Expect
What happens during an anxiety screening?
The doctor will ask your child questions about their feelings and behaviors. This may include asking how often your child:
- Worries something bad might happen to them or a loved one
- Feels very scared to be away from parents or caregivers
- Feels nervous around people they don’t know well
- Has headaches or stomachaches at school
Screening for anxiety usually takes about 10 minutes. It can be part of your child’s yearly checkup.
What if the doctor finds signs of anxiety?
If your child is showing signs of anxiety, the doctor will:
- Refer your child to a therapist or doctor with special training in helping young people with emotional or behavioral problems
- Talk about treatments that can help your child manage their anxiety — like cognitive behavioral therapy (a type of talk therapy) or medicines
- Order tests to check for other health problems
Make sure to include your child when you make any decisions about their treatment.
See a Doctor
Take steps to protect your child’s mental health.
Talk to your child’s doctor about anxiety screening.
Ask the doctor to screen your child for anxiety. If you’re worried about your child, be sure to let the doctor know. Find out what services are available in case your child needs treatment.
What about cost?
Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get your child screened for anxiety at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to find out more.
Your child may also qualify for free or low-cost health insurance through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Learn about coverage options for your family.
If you don't have insurance, you may still be able to get free or low-cost anxiety screening. Find a health center near you and ask about anxiety screening.
Learn more about:
Look for Changes
Write down any concerns you have.
Keep track of your child’s actions and words that make you think they might have anxiety. If you see a change in your child’s behavior, make a note about the change and when it happened. Include details like:
- How long the behavior’s been going on
- How often the behavior happens
- What’s going on in your child’s life when the behavior happens — for example, does it happen when it’s time to leave for school in the morning?
- How serious you think the behavior is
Share these notes with your child’s doctor. You can also use them to start a conversation with your child. Let your child know what you’ve noticed and ask what they think. Keep in mind that some children may have trouble telling you exactly what’s wrong, or they may not notice these behaviors in themselves.
Support Your Child
Find resources for your child.
If your child isn’t ready to talk to you about their feelings, there are still things you can do. Help your child find resources online and in the community. Share these resources with your child:
Let your child know that they can get support anonymously (without giving their name) by:
- Texting the Crisis Text Line — text HOME to 741741
- Chatting online with someone from the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
- Calling or texting the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988
Help your child make a list of other people they can go to with problems or questions — like a teacher, a guidance counselor, or another trusted adult.
Remind your child that you’re always there if they want to talk.
Content last updated August 11, 2023
This information on screening children and teens for anxiety is adapted from materials from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Marcy Burstein, Ph.D.
Scientific Review Officer
National Institute of Mental Health
Krystal Lewis, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist, Co-Director of Education
National Institute of Mental Health