Anxiety in children is on the rise. Here I talk straight and get real about it.
I talked to a dad in coaching who shared with me that he and his wife were struggling with their middle school-aged child. He had increasingly become anxious and even “OCD” about things, as his father said. In the morning before school started, their son would get anxious and easily overwhelmed with even the basic tasks of brushing his teeth, eating breakfast, and packing up his backpack for school. He’d jump on his ipad and zone out watching youtube videos. And his parents jumped in to rescue him. Of course they didn’t realize they were doing that – at first. They thought they were helping. They thought they were being “compassionate parents.” They had gotten into a good routine over the summer with doing chores. But now, with their son so anxious and overwhelmed, even feeding the cat seemed hard for their son to do. So they’d say things like, “Oh don’t worry about it. I’ll do it. Just get yourself ready to get to the bus stop.” Soon he was missing the bus because he needed to wash his hands three times, he would blow up at his sister for saying a certain word, or he would have to run upstairs again to change his socks that “just didn’t feel right.”
His parents started to tell their daughter “just don’t say that word, it sets your brother off.” They started to have an extra pair of socks by the door “just in case” he needed to change them to a softer pair. And they drove him to school if he missed the bus.
But then, a few weeks into the new school year, this dad and mom came to me for help. “We are exhausted. And nothing we are doing is making his anxiety better.”
Childhood rates of anxiety are rising.
Anxiety, not depression, is the leading mental health issue among American youths, and clinicians and research both suggest it is rising. The latest study was published in April in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Based on data collected from the National Survey of Children’s Health for ages 6 to 17, researchers found a 20 percent increase in diagnoses of anxiety between 2007 and 2012. (The rate of depression over that same time period ticked up 0.2 percent.)
Nearly a third of all adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder during their lifetime, according to the National Institutes of Health, with the incidence among girls (38.0 percent) far outpacing that among boys (26.1 percent).
Our teens and tweens feel like they “never get to the point where they are done.” There’s always another thing to do. And they don’t have the internal skills to know to stop, put away the work, decompress, get resourced (sleep, eat, play), and come back to it at another time. The pressure seems relentless. And they worry – excessively.
Is the pressure too much? Are we expecting too much out of our children? Or are we raising a generation of children who don’t have the internal skills to meet adversity with a growth mindset or face setbacks with resilience? Are we raising a generation of children who do not have the emotional and psychological wear-with-all to deal with the ever-fluctuating emotions that happen in a day as a result of their interactions and experiences?
It’s both. How did this happen and what can we do about it, individually and collectively?
We as parents, family members, educators, and professionals working with anxious children often want quick, easy answers. We want a blog post to solve our problems, take away our fears, and diminish our children’s anxiety.
No blog post is going to do that.
I could list out 10 different strategies for having a smooth morning with an anxious child, put a cute and clever title to it, and leave it at that. That kind of article might be shared by thousands because it gives us the illusion of control and it gives us parents who are anxious about our children’s anxiety SOMEthing to do. But would it really make a difference in a child’s life? Listing out strategy after strategy to you is like putting a band aid on a bigger cut.
If you have a big cut that keeps bleeding, you don’t stick on a band aid and hope it goes away. You also don’t try to do stitches yourself, unless you are a trained medical professional. Instead, you get the right medical treatment.
In this current reality of parenting, we are parenting too much alone. We are trying to do it all ourselves. We are the doctor, teacher, therapist, nutritionist, meditation teacher, personal assistant, sports coach, music teacher, and college-entrance advisor.
We also look for “once and done” solutions that are wrapped nicely with a bow.
I won’t give you that. Your child is too precious and important for that.
What I can lend to you is HOPE. What I can give you is skillful support and accompaniment.
On October 15th, I will start leading a group of parents, teachers, aunts and uncles, grandparents, coaches, and professionals invested in the life of a child to learn and experience skillful ways to truly support a strong, enduring foundation for healing our children’s anxiety and helping to plant the right kinds of essential seeds in the hearts, minds, and nervous systems of our children. In my inaugural 30-day online course, Regarding Our Children, I will be sharing nine powerful lessons with you to help your child truly thrive. I’ll guide you in what to say, how to address certain situations, what our children truly need to flourish, and skillful ways you can prevent trauma, deepen your child’s inner capacity to deal with stress, and build up your child in healthy, nourishing ways.
This is a start. It is a strong “getting real” kind of start.
I have poured my heart, soul, and clinical experience into this course. And I share with you approaches to seeing and regarding our children that heal, empower, and nourish our children.
I share from my clinical experience, decades of mindfulness training, and my training in somatic experiencing — and made these deep lessons accessible and doable for our busy lives. But I am going to be honest with you – while I’ll talk “strategy,” what this course is really about is exactly what I’m about in my individual work with coaching and psychotherapy clients: creating a big shift in how we live our lives. And if you want to see a big shift in your life, your child’s anxiety, and your family life – well, then, we have some discerning to do. We have some work to do. We have some changes to make.
Advertising is all about making you think “Oh this is easy! I don’t have to change a thing and I’ll….” lose weight, run a marathon, do a headstand, solve my marital problems, or help my child to believe in him/herself and to be okay.
It takes grit, dear ones. It takes having skin in the game.
But I’ll be alongside you – just as I tell my clients – in gentle yet real ways. I’ll meet you where you are…and I’ll show you where you and your child can possibly go. I’ll hold your hand, but I’ll also say, “It’s time” – to make a shift, take a leap, dig into some uncomfortable emotions, take a risk, and make some big decisions.
I hope you’ll consider joining me and a group of other like-hearted, like-minded people who are about truly equipping our children with the inner skills, confidence, and resources so they become leaders of their own lives, and men and women of integrity. I hope you’ll join us in creating a more compassionate world.
What happened with the dad who first came to me a year ago at the start of the new school year? Ohhhhh a ton of good, hard, uncomfortable, doable, “we got this,” and “I feel equipped now” stuff! Mom and dad stopped accommodating their child’s avoidant strategies – it was making the anxiety worse. But they also didn’t throw their child into the lion’s den. Their child had to develop the internal skills and deepen his capacity to confront stress without freezing in a slow, titrated way. They hired a local therapist to work with their child and family. I worked with mom and dad. We addressed what was coming up for them (our children’s stuff always triggers our own stuff!). They utilized strategies, yes, but they took an approach to addressing their son’s anxiety that were based on what truly nourishes our attachment/connection with children and builds capacity in our nervous systems to confront stress. I not only offered them education, but also experiences of what it’s like to effectively resource our nervous systems and have the capacity to meet what they confront in life with wisdom and compassion. They feel more confident, grounded, and resourced. They know how to support their family when challenges arise — and how to enjoy the good stuff in life as well.Blessings,