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The Childhood Anxiety Epidemic: What Parents Can Do About It

Bob Livingstone is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCS 11087) in private practice for 22 years in San Francisco, California. He holds a Masters Degree ...Read More

According to a 2006 report from the Surgeon General, thirteen percent of children ages 9-17 suffer from anxiety disorders. There are other studies that indicate ten percent of all children in America have experienced this disorder. The sheer numbers of kids who have some sort of anxiety is astounding and these studies were completed before the recent economic crisis hit. Therefore we can assume that these statistics have increased in the last couple years.

Some of the different types of anxiety disorders are: Separation Anxiety, School Refusal or Avoidance, Social Anxiety, Selective Mutisim, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Panic Disorder.

Some of the symptoms kids display when they are experiencing anxiety are: Fear of sleeping alone, fear of going to places on their own, fear of doing anything new, fear of failing, fear of being kidnapped, fear that someone will break in to their house, and fear of some type of violence will be perpetrated on them. Some children actually have realistic fears about neighborhood related violence. The children that are impacted here are those that live in relatively safe neighborhoods where there is a minimal amount of criminal activity.

The reasons for the epidemic of anxiety are: 1. The economic downturn has parents worrying about their immediate financial future and this intense level of trepidation is being passed along to their children. 2. The culture of fear that is perpetrated on cable television that causes parents to feel highly protective of their children. This results in the lack of spontaneous play and the creation of play dates where parents choose their kid’s friends. Therefore children miss out on many skills that would help them feel more confident and less worried. Those skills are: taking public transportation – learning directions, calling friends and arranging get-togethers-learning social skills walking around the neighborhood and playing outside-learning independence, getting a job(when old enough)-learn how to manage money and work for others. 3. Some of us are born into this world with a predisposition for anxiety. 4. The intense pressure of getting accepting into the college of your choice is overwhelming because the academic requirements demand perfection in all facets of your child’s life. The expense of college has made it impossible for many parents to pay tuition; therefore there is a higher need for scholarships than in the past.

What parents can do about this anxiety crisis:

  • The most important concept to be aware of is that the only way for your child to overcome her fears is to face and experience the very thing that is making her feel so afraid.
  • If your child gets out of bed in the middle of the night and comes to your room, walk him back to his bed and tell him that everything is all right and he is safe. Allow him to read or have other reasonable distractions that will allow him to fall asleep.
  • Encourage her to take part in activities that produce anxiety for her. For example if she is fearful of attending a school dance, help her prepare to go and ask her to focus on what a good time she will have.
  • Create activities with your children that will give them a sense of independence such as chores, getting a job, helping out younger siblings and volunteering to help those less fortunate. This will increase their self-confidence.
  • Talk to your kids about their fears and encourage them to be honest about them. Share your stories of how you overcame anxious situations with them.
  • Make sure that your children exercise regularly because working out has been proven to lessen anxiety.
  • Turn off the Television and limit other electronics. It seems that contemporary news shows focus on violence and celebrity gossip. There is really no upside to watching TV today.
  • Although many of us are suffering financial hardships, it is important to let your kids know that you are hopeful that your economic situation will improve in the future.
  • Psychotherapy can be very helpful for children who are plagued with worry. Ask your friends and your child’s pediatrician for referrals for a therapist who specializes in working with children who have anxiety.
  • If nothing else is effective, medication can decrease anxiety. Ask your friends and you pediatrician for a referral to a child psychiatrist.
Keep Reading By Author Bob Livingstone, LCSW
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