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Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Children: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

We all worry. It's an expected part of life. But when your child has generalized anxiety disorder, they worry about lots of things. Your child has a hard time not worrying. This worry or anxiety interferes with your child's relationships, school, and life.

Your child may worry most days about things like school or friends. That may make your child feel tired, tense, or cranky. It can make it hard to think. It may get in the way of healthy sleep. Your child also may have physical symptoms of anxiety such as stomach aches or headaches.

Counselling and medicine can both work to treat anxiety. They are often used together with lifestyle changes.

Counselling involves meeting with a therapist like a social worker, psychologist, mental health therapist, or occupational therapist to work together to set and meet goals for your child. Some counselling can involve a team of therapists. An important part of counselling is the relationship between your child, their therapist, and your family. Look for a therapist who is warm, who understands your child, and who you trust. You may want to find support from someone who understands your family's cultural background.

There are different approaches that your child's therapist may use, including:

  • exposure therapy (like systematic desensitization)
  • acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
  • play therapy or art therapy
  • cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT)

Ask your therapist to explain the approach they use. You also may have family counselling. Family counselling is an important part of treating anxiety in children. It can help family members learn how to support your child.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Work with your child's teachers and school counsellor to help create support for your child at school.
  • Encourage your child to be active or participate in health activities for at least an hour each day. Ask them what their favourite activity or coping strategy is. Your child may like to take a walk with you, ride a bike, or play sports. But be patient. If they don’t want to do the activity right away, that’s OK. Ask again later.
  • Help your child learn relaxation exercises. Your child's counsellor can help. Free online videos and podcasts are also good resources. Examples of relaxation exercises include:
    • Deep breathing. This means taking slow, deep breaths.
    • Guided imagery. Your child imagines themself in a certain setting that helps them feel calm and relaxed.
    • Progressive muscle relaxation. This involves tensing and relaxing each muscle group to reduce anxiety and muscle tension.
  • Find things that help calm your child. Some ideas include drawing, playing with a pet, listening to music, and snuggling a favourite stuffed animal.
  • Help your child get enough sleep.
    • Set up a bedtime routine to help your child get ready for bed.
    • Have your child go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.
    • Keep your child’s bedroom quiet, dark, and cool at bedtime. You may need to remove the TV, computer, cellphone, or electronic games from your child's room.
  • Let your child talk about their fears. Be understanding when your child makes a mistake. This can help build trust.
  • Give your child a chance to do something on their own, such as making crafts. That can help your child feel confident.
  • Find a therapist you and your child connect with and with whom you can build a good relationship. Look for someone who is a good fit for your family based on your goals, your culture, and the approach to counselling you are comfortable with.
  • Give your child their medicines exactly as prescribed. Don’t stop taking them without talking to your healthcare provider. Call your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse advice line if you think your child is having a problem with their medicine. They may be able to offer suggestions to manage side effects, lower the dose, or change the medicine.
  • Know that help is available. In Alberta, you or your child can call the Mental Health Help Line any time, day or night, at 1-877-303-2642. Your child can also call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. Kids Help Phone also has support via text and online chat.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child feels that they can't stop from hurting themself or someone else.

Where to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

If your child talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away.

  • Call or text Canada's suicide and crisis hotline at 988.
  • Alberta Health Services Mental Health Helpline: 1-877-303-2642.
  • Call Talk Suicide Canada: 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645 (4 p.m. to midnight ET).
  • Kids or teens can call Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 or text CONNECT to 686868.
  • Go to the Talk Suicide Canada website at or the Kids Help Phone website at for more information.

Consider saving these numbers in your phone.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has new anxiety or anxiety that gets worse.
  • Your child has been feeling sad, depressed, or hopeless or has lost interest in things that your child usually enjoys.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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