Helping Your Child Overcome Anxiety

Tips for Parents of Kids With ADHD

Girl covering her ears in living room
Cultura/Leila Mendez/Riser/Getty Images

All of us experience a certain amount of anxiety at times in our lives. For children, these anxieties and fears are often associated with developmental stages. Infants fear loud noises or falling. Very young children fear strangers or being apart from caregivers. Preschoolers often deal with separation anxiety and fears about animals, monsters or the dark. School age kids may be afraid of storms or have fears around death or injury.

Older kids may experience school or social anxieties.

At each of these various stages, a child must learn to cope and manage stressful feelings. In successfully mastering these fears, the child gains confidence and greater assertiveness and independence.

Anxiety and ADHD

What does a parent do when a child isn’t able to overcome these intense feelings quite so easily? Children with ADHD tend to experience anxiety at higher rates than children without ADHD. Anxiety disorders are among the most common co-occurring conditions with ADHD.

Sometimes anxiety occurs as part of a separate anxiety disorder alongside the ADHD. Other times it occurs secondary to the ADHD. In other words, the ADHD symptoms bring on the feelings of anxiety.

For example, a child may feel lost in the classroom when there is a lot of distractions or overload of information. As a result, he or she begins to feel uncertain and overwhelmed, and insecurities can escalate into anxiety.

In addition, the child’s impulsive reactions and difficulties with self-control may result in peer rejection. Repeated frustrations and failures because of this can bring on feelings of self consciousness, demoralization, and anxiety.

The anxiety often worsens symptoms of ADHD. It can become a vicious, painful cycle.

Some kids may be very shy and withdrawn, while others may act out with disruptive behaviors (tantrums, avoidance, and defiance). These behaviors can be misinterpreted as “bad behaviors” when they are anxiety related. Understanding what is causing the behavior problems is important. When there is understanding about the anxiety, parents can develop more effective interventions to help their child.

Tips for Helping Your Anxious Child

  • Provide a safe, structured and predictable environment for your child. Develop and maintain daily routines. Routines help define and provide order to the day. Your child knows what is going to happen next, so she feels less uncertainty and more control. Be consistent, positive and nurturing in your parenting approach.
  • Give your child a safe place to share feelings. Kids with ADHD often have difficulty understanding, identifying and managing their emotions. You can help your child by consciously tuning in, noticing her expression of feelings, and reflecting upon those feelings. When she shares, actively listen and acknowledge her feelings.
  • Communicate with your child’s teachers so they are aware of and understand your child’s anxiety and how ADHD symptoms may worsen it. Together develop strategies to provide consistency, structure and predictability in the classroom. Understand what triggers the anxiety.

    Is your child becoming overwhelmed by distractions in the classroom? Is she experiencing problems around social relationships? If so, work with the teacher on the classroom environment or with your daughter on social skills training, etc. Keep lines of communication with the school open.

  • Help your child develop strategies for dealing with the anxious feelings as they arise. Try deep breathing exercise, progressive relaxation, and self talk that corrects the negative thoughts and replaces them with feelings of competence and assertiveness. Coach your child on these techniques. Kids with ADHD benefit from lots of repetition to learn new skills. Role play and practice these skills again and again, so responses are more natural and automatic.
  • When your child becomes anxious, model calmness for her. Talk to her in a soothing, matter-of-fact voice, and be the calm presence from which she can pull strength. Provide reassurance and encourage her to face new situations, rather than withdrawing and avoiding stressors. Acknowledge and provide praise and positive reinforcement for each small step she makes.
  • Never punish or minimize her feelings. During times when anxiety becomes overwhelming, adjust your expectations so that she doesn’t feel increased pressure as she is learning to cope with feelings.
  • Being able to make choices and have a sense of control over situations is important for kids who are feeling anxious. Help your child build confidence and inner strength by providing opportunities to make choices. The more your child feels she has control over the situation, the better. Just be sure to help her narrow the number of choices. Too many choices can make a child feel overwhelmed and end up increasing feelings of anxiety.
  • Be aware that exhaustion, lack of sleep, illness, family stress, and changes in routine can certainly exacerbate anxiety.
  • Make sure your child is getting plenty of physical activity and exercise to help reduce stress levels.
  • Monitor and limit your child’s exposure to scary images on television, including the news. We often are clear about inappropriate movies and TV shows, but the news can be as frightening and anxiety provoking to younger kids. Watch these adult programs after your child has gone to bed.
  • Unfortunately, anxious children are often easy targets for bullies. If you suspect your child is being bullied, encourage her to talk openly with you about this. Be supportive of your child. Ask the school to provide increased supervision. Work with the school and your child on ways to address the bullying behaviors.
  • Keep lines of communication open with your child's doctor. Work together with the doctor to develop the most effective treatment plan for your child.


    AACAP-Practice Parameter for Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents With Anxiety Disorders. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry,46:2,Feb 2007

    Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Tips for Parents and Caregivers.

    Managing ADHD in Children, Adolescents, and Adults with Comorbid Anxiety in Primary Care. Prim Care Companion to the J Clin Psychiatry.2007;9(2):129-138

  • Continue Reading