I came to be interested in “anxieties and worries” in tweens and teens when I noticed how many of my friends’ daughters were struggling, seeing a counsellor, or on medication. This included my own daughter. At the time, we found help using medication and we tried some child counselling. Some of this was helpful, however, I knew there must be underlying reasons for the struggles of our girls, and better ways to help.
Adolescence and pre-adolescence are times of growth and opportunity, but our children can so easily become stuck in self-doubt, social challenge and anxiety. Seriously elevated levels of anxiety are affecting more than 15% of children and teens, significantly interfering with their ability to confidently handle everyday life situations such as relationships with peers, teachers and parents, and school achievement.
The prospect of feeling inferiority in our society begins in early childhood. Very early in life we feel judged against our peers through competitive sports or activities, school success, and university entrance. We compare our clothing, our homes, and our looks, against the dominant standard. We compare ourselves up, “I am not as good as…” and we compare ourselves down, “I am better than….” Thus our world can easily generate within an individual feelings of isolation, failure, and alienation which surface as anxiety. Other initiating factors for children can be divorce, bullying, or learning disabilities.
As parents we don’t often recognize the signs in our children as “anxiety;” we just have a sense they are struggling and we do not know how to help. We wonder “Why is my child’s sense of self esteem is so low?” We become concerned when it begins to interfere with learning, socializing, and having fun.
Signs of elevated levels of anxiety may include one or more of the following:
- School refusal, crying, stomach aches
- Not being able to sleep over at a friends or even sleep alone
- Nail biting, hair tugging, cutting
- Uncomfortable with social interaction
- Obsessing over germs or routines
- Constant worries
- Extremely uncomfortable with change
- Separation anxiety after the age of 5
- Specific phobias which interfere with life
- Social challenges in adolescence; trouble developing or maintaining friendships
- Combative behaviours
- Perfectionism which interferes with life and school
- Repetitive behaviours
- Learning problems
I have noticed anxiety can grow. Anxiety can be like experiencing pain…treat it early and relief is possible, but leave it to brew and it becomes more entrenched. Extreme levels of anxiety can be deemed disorders such as separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.
What do we need to do? I believe our aim is not so much to “prevent” anxiety, but to build resiliency and a sense of self-esteem. By giving children specific coping skills and building resilience when we notice “moderate” levels of anxiety, we can prevent the possibility of a full disorder.
Living with resiliency includes:
Awareness of my own thoughts, feelings, attitudes and behaviours
An ability to sooth myself and relax
An ability to cope with strong feelings
Being hopeful and positive
Self confidence in my abilities and ideas
Willingness to try something outside of my comfort zone
Strength not to be persuaded by what others think
Thrive Resiliency Counselling works with children and teens to build these skills and help struggling children build strong new identities resilient to the challenges of our disordered world. Counselling can be an effective in giving children and teens the tools they require to move forward successfully in this world.
Here are some suggested readings/website which may be helpful: