Virtual Reality for Children with Anxiety

By exposing them kids to a difficult situation in a playful way, virtual reality can be very useful to accompany children with anxiety.
Virtual Reality for Children with Anxiety
Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 06 May, 2023

Virtual reality is the use of technology to simulate a real environment with all its components, including sounds, images, and stimuli. The result is immersion in a different scenario that gives the sensation of actually being there. Given this proximity to a real environment, it’s used to address different issues and problems at different ages. Let’s see more about the use of virtual reality for children with anxiety.

The use of virtual reality in psychology

Nowadays, virtual reality has different applications. For example, it allows us to travel to distant places and improve our sports performance by participating in specific training. Because of the different benefits it brings, it also started to be used in psychology. Within it, one of the most frequent areas has to do with the approach to anxiety in general and in children in particular.

The case of children with diseases that require surgery is a good example. Some are afraid of hospitalization, needles, or being separated from their parents, among other concerns. Undoubtedly, each of these aspects gives rise to different emotions. At the same time, with the use of virtual reality, children arrive at the surgery more relaxed and with a different kind of preparation.

Virtual reality is also useful to help children who have a phobia. In this type of disorder, gradual exposure is one of the most recommended techniques. However, its application with small children becomes more difficult. This is because they become very nervous when they encounter the feared stimulus. This methodology provides a rehearsal environment.

A young girl wearing a virtual reality headset.
With virtual reality, children can gradually come into contact with the fears they suffer from and learn different ways of dealing with them.

What does the use of virtual reality for children with anxiety provide?

Some of the advantages of using virtual reality for childhood anxiety are the following:

  • It provides a transitional space. In this way, children are virtually exposed to a situation but not fully exposed to it. For example, they can enter and leave the simulation when they’re not comfortable and let themselves be guided by their emotions. This implies a great deal of respect during the process. Familiarity with the digital world often recreates a friendlier situation.
  • It offers a non-pharmacological treatment.
  • It gives children an active role. Children bring into play different skills to solve and cope with situations. For example, they can develop and strengthen social skills to converse, interact, and find their own style to do so.
  • It recreates a play space without the real stress of a difficult situation. It also brings imagination into play.
  • It offers a therapy that tends to be shorter in time compared to other types of treatments.
  • It can be used to teach or guide relaxation techniques. At younger ages, it’s sometimes difficult for children to concentrate and learn to relax. However, with virtual reality, it can be easier to achieve immersion in a calm and tranquil environment.
  • It allows a professional to accompany the child, recording live what’s happening to the child. In this way, not only can they support the child, but also design effective and personalized strategies. At the same time, the child can record the bodily sensations produced by the situation. This way, it helps them to know themself, register their body and emotions, and stop being afraid of such reactions.

The disadvantages of using virtual reality for children with anxiety

However, we should also mention some of the disadvantages of using the technology. Namely:

  • The cost: As it’s a tool that requires great design in its development, in many cases, it’s not affordable. However, it depends on the case. For example, for those who have a phobia of flying, the use of virtual reality is less expensive than exposing themselves to a trip.
  • Training and education of the professional. Although it’s not complex, it’s important that the professional who uses it as a tool knows how it works.
A young girl pointing to an object while using a virtual reality headset.
Using virtual reality as therapy makes it a playful situation, but with an enormous learning potential.

The use of technology for health

Undoubtedly, many adults wonder whether or not to opt for the use of virtual reality with children. However, it’s important to keep in mind that children grow up with technology, so they’re not two separate worlds. The digital and the virtual are part of their daily lives. The key is to know how to find a benefit and a positive side.

However, as with all applications, a guided and accompanied use is required. It’s important to remember that it’s not technology that dominates us, but the other way around; w have to choose when we use it and how we use it. That being said, any scientific advance that implies well-being is welcome.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Botella, C., García-Palacios, A., Quero, S., Baños, R. M., & Bretón-López, J. M. (2006). Realidad virtual y tratamientos psicológicos: una revisión. Psicología Conductual3(1), 491-510.
  • Jeffs D, Dorman D, Brown S, Files A, Graves T, Kirk E, Meredith-Neve S, Sanders J, White B, Swearingen CJ. Effect of virtual reality on adolescent pain during burn wound care. J Burn Care Res. 2014 Sep-Oct;35(5):395-408. doi: 10.1097/BCR.0000000000000019. PMID: 24823326.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.