They don’t have to contribute to the family income, have less household chores, more toys, games and electronic devices and are the most educated and globally connected generation; but our children are also the most anxious.
The number of children with anxiety has skyrocketed.
Anxiety is estimated to affect about 1 in 10 Australian children, according to the Centre for Emotional Health.
Our pace of life, fascination with bad news and speed of communication, perpetuating the feeling that it’s going to happen to us, is worrying our children.
It is now common for five young children in every classroom to experience worry. These worries, if not addressed, could develop into diagnosable anxiety disorders, such as Separation Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Panic Fears, Phobias or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, by the time children reach 8 to 11 years of age, the Centre of Emotional Health state.
Dr John Irvine, child psychologist and author of the new book Helping Young Worriers Beat the WorryBug, said the number of children with anxiety related disorders referred to the R.E.A.D. Clinic has significantly increased.
“When I first started practicing it was kids being naughty, then ADHD became the dominant issue, recently it was Asperger’s and Autism Spectrum Disorder, now anxiety would be our largest referral source of children,” he said.
Dr John said the substantial increase in anxiety related issues could be attributed to several factors; the most common being that the whole world is more anxious and this anxiety is flooding down from parents and the community to children.
“We seem to have a determination to find bad news,” he said.
“Everyone will read the bad news. Social media and the speed of communication give us this feeling of thinking that it’s going to happen to us, like the Ebola outbreak, whereas a few years ago we were more insular.”
Modern family life is another important influence Dr John has identified as increasing anxiety. Both parents are now typically working full-time and families are struggling to keep up with our faster pace of life, he said.
The average family today has 1.7 children compared to previous generations when it was common to have eight or nine children in a family, Dr John said. This change in family structure suggests children today are much more precious and parents tend to worry about them more. The effect of this parental anxiety was moderated in previous generations because children played off each other.
“If a child got hurt their brother or sister would say ‘get over it’, now everyone worries and fusses over them,” Dr John said.
“Parents protection and anxiety feeds directly into kids, it’s not moderated by siblings.”
Education change is an additional factor Dr John attributes to the rise in anxiety. Children are now entering into more formalised education at a younger age. Recent media reports reveal some pre-schools and childcare centres are giving young children homework in preparation for school and primary aged students are feeling the pressure of NAPLAN testing.
“There is more pressure on our lives; we feel that we are not good enough because we expect perfection. The bar is set very high for kids, and parents,” Dr John said.
Dr John said it was important for parents and educators to help children identify emotions, to show children that we all have these feelings; that they are universal and not unique to them and to give children strategies to learn how to manage their feelings and emotions so they do not become overwhelming.
“We don’t want our kids becoming so anxious that they flip out or have a panic attack because they have never learned to self-regulate,” he said.
“When kids are confident managing their emotions, and have a sense of control over their feelings, they have good self-esteem, which is one of the most critical things to develop.”
Helping Young Worriers Beat the WorryBug is an easy-to-read, practical and fun-filled guide of therapeutic ideas and activities aimed at parents and educators to help children develop strategies to effectively manage their emotions. It is available exclusively from Educational Experience.
Pre-order your copy now!