By Reid Wilson and Lynn Lyons
Childhood can be a frightening and uncertain time for kids, and some mild anxiety is part and parcel with growing up in a fast-paced world. What many parents don’t realize, though, is just how many children are affected by clinically recognized anxiety disorders, and that their own anxiety can be a contributing factor to their children’s struggles.
Our book Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents tackles this complicated issue head on, with a fresh and somewhat unconventional approach to helping both kids and parents who are suffering from the effects of an anxiety disorder or anxious disposition.
Anxiety Management and Prevention
We champion an early approach to anxiety management. The average parents should start teaching what we would call ‘anxiety prevention skills’ by the age of four, but it’s never too late to start. While Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents is directed largely at families who are already struggling with anxiety problems or avoid ant behavior, we would like to stress that healthy stress management skills should be a priority for all parents. Even if your child isn’t exhibiting signs of avoidance, phobias or clinical anxiety disorders, it’s still smart to work with your young child in order to help him learn healthy ways to manage everyday stress and anxiety triggers.
Recognizing the Signs of Anxiety in Kids
There are so many things that can cause kids to become frightened or to worry when they’re small that it’s not always easy to know where normal stressors stop and problematic disorders begin. However, there are certain signs and symptoms that you should be on the lookout for if you suspect that your child’s anxiety indicates something deeper and more serious than normal, everyday worry.
First and foremost, it’s important to examine your own history and take honest stock of your emotional health. If you have an anxious, depressed or stressed-out parent, you are six to seven times more likely to be a stressed-out child. That means that if you are struggling with what you suspect may be an anxiety disorder or have been diagnosed with one, your children are, statistically speaking, more likely to suffer from the same problems.
Parents with established or suspected anxiety disorders should make a priority of instilling healthy stress management mechanisms in their children from an early age, before anxiety disorder symptoms present themselves. Learning how to help your kids manage stress and how to avoid modeling anxious behavior is important, especially if your own anxiety has previously gone untreated.
It is interesting to note that parents who aren’t struggling from anxiety-related disorders may not be as well-versed in or capable of spotting the early signs. Anxiety disorders can co-occur with other emotional disorders like ADHD, eating disorders and depression, so it’s wise to keep an eye out for symptoms of anxiety in kids who have established difficulties in these areas as well.
Lynn Miller, an Associate Professor of Education at University of British Columbia, advises parents to ask themselves whether their child is more anxious or shy than other children his age, and whether or not he worries more than other kids in his peer group. If the answer to either of those questions is “yes,” then it’s especially important to look for ways of helping your child learn healthy anxiety management techniques. If your child is unwilling to attend school, actively avoids events or outings and is extremely reluctant to separate from a parent or trusted adult caregiver, he is exhibiting some signs of an anxiety disorder. It is important to not only manage the situations in a way that benefits your child, but also in ways that preserve your own emotional well-being.
Treatment and Mitigation of Anxiety Disorder Symptoms and Risk
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s research shows that an estimated one in eight children in the United States suffer from some form of an anxiety disorder. The effects of anxiety disorders can have far-reaching implications throughout those kids’ lives. Children suffering from childhood anxiety disorders are at a higher risk for experimentation and abuse of controlled substances, tend to perform poorly in school and miss out altogether on essential social experiences throughout their lives.
One of the key concepts is learning to recognize patterns and situations that enhance kids’ anxiety and how to foster positive change along the way. We hope that parents understand that anxiety is both preventable and treatable. That it’s not that complicated, once you know how it works. Parents really do make all the difference.
The goal of our book is to help parents do just that– make a difference in both their own lives and that of their anxious children, by learning the tools they need to manage stressful situations. Anxiety can absolutely be managed and treated when you learn to recognize the signs, and decide that you are ready to take action.
~Reid and Lynn
About Reid Wilson and Lynn Lyons
Lynn Lyons, the co-author of Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents, is a licensed clinical social worker. She also maintains a private psychotherapists’ practice specializing in treatment for adults and children suffering from anxiety disorders and phobias. Ms. Lyons champions an early approach to anxiety management. Written with Reid Wilson, PhD, who is the director of the Anxiety Disorders Treatment Center and the Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents is full of unconventional wisdom and proven techniques for helping kids beat their fears in order to live productive, successful lives.
Can you relate to any of the above? I know that we come by it honestly in our family– on a spectrum, I would say few in our entourage are particularly zen and chilled, including myself. But I definitely manage overwhelm by meditation, exercise, healthy eating, good restorative sleep and a positive attitude. I have worked hard for this family to try and teach the kids how to keep calm, but it does sometimes prove to be a challenge. I would love your thoughts today.