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Anxiety Medication for Children

This page will help provide some guidelines to help you understand anxiety medication for children, and also, help you decide when it might be necessary to put your child on medication. 

Generally, my particular advice to parents is to try a good therapist who uses a combination of  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and play therapy if your child is young. This should be tried prior to medication, except in extreme circumstances where child's functioning is seriously impaired and must be quickly gotten under control. When evaluating whether or not to use child anxiety medication for children, you can consider the following issues below.

Anxiety Medication for Children: Issues to consider

  •  Has  your child's therapist provided both you and your child with education about anxiety and what cognitive behavioral therapy (cbt)can do to help?
  • Have you and your child received therapy and education about managing physical symptoms of the anxiety?
  • Have you and your child received therapy and education about challenging false ideas and worries?
  • Has your child’s therapist encouraged you to help your child face the things they are afraid of and tried to work with your child to conquer that fear?
  • Has your therapist discussed working with the school to assist your child?

If the answer to all these questions is yes, and your child’s symptoms have not improved significantly, it may be time to consider child anxiety medication. If your child’s symptoms have improved but continue despite therapy to interfere with success at home, school, or with friends, you may also want to consider medication. This is a deeply personal decision, and no one can make it but you. 

Axiety Medication for Children: Is CBT the only therapy that works??

Keep in mind that although we know CBT works it may be somewhat difficult to use with young children. A three year old will not be capable of participating in traditional cognitive behavioral therapy. It is also important to remember that other techniques may work also. CBT is not the only therapy, it is just the best researched therapy. We know children who receive it generally make improvements. The important thing is that you feel your child has received the benefit of good therapy prior to trying medication. A good child therapist  will make use of a combination of techniques such as art and play therapy and will combine these with work with you the parent, to help work with your child. Click here to learn more about therapy with children who have anxiety. 

Axiety Medication for Children: What are they?

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibiters (SSRI's), Tricyclic Antidepressents(TCA's), and Benzodiazepines

Even though I’m not a psychiatrist, I can read and understand the research, and so can you. It's crucial for parents to be educated and understand the medicine choices your doctor makes.  The most up to date research on anxiety medicine for children at this time shows that SSRI's can be successful at helping anxious children.  Unfortunately, SSRI’S have been given a black box warning for depressed children and adolescents. SSRI’s have been shown to increase depressive symptoms, including suicidal ideation, in a small percent of these children and adolescents. Also there have been no research studies done on the long term effects of SSRIS on anxious children (AACAP OFFICIAL ACTION Clinical Report, February 1, 2007).

Here are some of SSRI's

  • fluoxetine or Prozac
  • sertraline or Zoloft
  • paroxetine or Paxil
  • fluvoxamine or Luvox
  • citalopram or Celexa
  • escitalopram or Lexapro

Only a doctor can prescribe and advise you on child anxiety medicine, but you can be informed enough to ask questions about SSRI’S or any other choices of medications.

A doctor may prescribe something other than an SSRI, or in combination with an SSRI as a child anxiety medication. If your child’s doctor makes a different choice, ask why.

There are two other classes of drugs utilized to treat child and adolescent anxiety. Tricyclic Antidepressants ( TCA’s) and benzodiazepines. TCA’s generally have more serious side effects and need to be monitored more closely . ( (AACAP OFFICIAL ACTION Clinical Report, February 1, 2007) .

Anxiety Medication for Children: Questions to Ask the Doctor

Educate Yourself and Your Child about the Child Anxiety Medicine They Take

If you and your doctor have decided to try a child anxiety medication, carefully monitor your child for any changes in their behavior. I also recommend children be told medication is being prescribed, regardless of how young they are, and that they know the names and doses of their medications. Parents need to check in regularly with their child when medication is prescribed to get the child’s opinion of how they feel and how it may be helping or hurting.

Here are some questions to ask your doctor about your childs medication. 

  • How does this medication work?
  • What symptoms am I monitoring for improvement? 
  • How long should it be before I see improvement?
  • What will you do if there is no improvement?
  • How long will my child need to be on this medication?
  • How will my child get off this medication?
  • What side effects am I monitoring for?
  • What questions should I ask my child to determine there personal experience with an improvement in the symptoms?
  • What should I do if I miss a dose of this medication?
  • What should I do my pharmacy subsitutes a generic or a different generic for this one?
  • Are there any side effects or interactions I should know about?

This page does not apply to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ( PTSD). These diagnoses require different consideration when examining questions about medication (AACAP OFFICIAL ACTION Clinical Report, February 1, 2007)

Click here for a dowlonadable pdf file


AACAP OFFICIAL ACTION Clinical Report. (February 1, 2007). Practice Parameter for the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with anxiety disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolesecent Psychiatry , 267-283.

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Click here to leave anxiety medication for children more about child anxiety

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