Have a Question? Need Parenting Advice? Ask Michael Hawton

Recent reports in the media are once again promoting the use of trained mental health professionals to remedy childhood anxiety. However, effective remedies are available to each adult in a child’s life, not just to clinical-level professionals.

The answer to the question about what to do about childhood anxiety is not just to employ more mental health staff in schools, but to position the problem as everyone’s business to solve. There are some simple strategies key adults (parents and teachers) can use to challenge anxious behaviours and build resilience in a child.

There are a few facts worth knowing:

  1. A recent report on childhood anxiety by the Australian Primary Principals’ Association (APPA) showed that children as young as 4 or 5 are increasingly using more anxious words (I’m worried or I’m anxious) and they are behaving more anxiously (being reluctant and more avoidant than ever before).

While we’re living in the most physically safe of times (fewer children die or are injured from accidents than ever before and general safety has improved), it’s clear that children are more psychologically at risk than ever before.

  1. Most anxiety problems are on a trajectory. That is, they start at one point in time and build, they will get worse in time if remedies are not put in place from as early as possible in a child’s life. The average age for a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder in Australia is 11 years old. To get to that point it’s usual for that diagnosis to have been years in the making. It might start off at age 7 as fretting and build to more obvious worrying by 9. By the time that child is 11, the anxious behaviours have become more observable avoidance and catastrophising and may lead to a diagnosis.
  2. The majority of anxious thinking is learned, two-thirds of it actually. What can happen is poorly constructed explanations can be implanted in a child’s mind, such that a child’s immediate emotional reactions reinforce higher anxiety.

In other words, children bring to the table a partial self which relies on a completed self (that of us adults) to keep to develop coping narratives. If they don’t get help to overcome their anxieties and fears they’ll become more anxious.

  1. The majority of significant adults in a child’s life are often unsure about how to deal with a child’s anxiousness. I’ve seen adults not want to challenge children’s anxious reactions for fear of pushing them too far or because they don’t want to put a child under too much pressure. What I am saying though is that children need adults to ‘facilitate’ conversations with children so that they can learn how to solve their problems.

As the saying goes better to prepare the child for the road then to prepare the road for the child. By learning how to challenge anxious behaviours, key adults (parents, teachers and teacher aides) can build resilience in a child that may prevent anxiety from developing.

Parentshop is hosting a parent-led child development interactive webinar for Parents to learn the skills to identify and reduce anxiety and build resilience in their children. This webinar hosted by Parentshop Founder and No Scaredy Cats course creator Michael Hawton. It will be held over three, two hour long sessions over three consecutive Mondays, 16th, 23rd & 30th November from 7.00pm- 9.00pm AEDT for only $99 – CLICK HERE to register. 

Michael Hawton is the founder of Parentshop, providing education and resources for parents and industry professionals working with children. He has authored two books on child behaviour management: Talk Less Listen More and Engaging Adolescents. You can find more information, including his books and self-paced online parenting courses at https://www.parentshop.com.au/parent-courses

CLICK HERE for upcoming No Scaredy Cats for Teachers and Teacher Aides.

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