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DREAMSTIME - Children can be as susceptible to anxiety issues as adults - if not more.It’s hard enough for adults to witness chaos in the world by watching the nightly newscasts and 24-hour cable news.


But images of an unsettled world can also be troubling for our children. It may be one reason our kids are experiencing an increase in anxiety.

Noticing this upsurge in children’s anxiety is Dr. Jill Davidson, clinical psychologist and co-director and founder of the Portland Anxiety Clinic. Her job is to treat anxiety and related disorders.

“Anxiety is normal and it’s not dangerous,” Davidson, who sees kids, adolescents and adults in her practice, said. “Anxiety tends to present very similarly in adults and children. It’s actually our defense mechanism when we perceive something as being dangerous or when there is something dangerous.” With anxiety, we can react out of proportion to the situation.

According to Davidson, anxiety affects, to a clinical level, about one in eight children. Anxiety symptoms can include excessive worry and avoidance behavior. Students, for example, may not raise their hand in class or they may avoid activity.

“When symptoms become too intense or too prolonged, or start impairing functioning, that’s when we know that they’re problematic,” she added.

With anxiety, “Kids are really good at thinking about ‘worst case’ scenarios, or ‘what if’ type thinking,” Davidson said, adding that kids with anxiety may cry more easily or develop stomach aches or headaches.

Davidson stresses that while anxiety and fear is normal in children, she will hear from parents who wonder if it’s normal for their child to fear the dark; they may also ask Davidson if it’s normal when their child cries if left alone.

“Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t,” Davidson said. “We really just kind of gauge on how much it impairs functioning.”

Davidson sees anxiety on the rise in children. She said, “There’s some research on this, but it’s not definitive.”

Davidson added, “I think our societal pace is really fast right now. I don’t think their (children) brains are made to keep up with it. I think there’s just more instability (more divorces and job insecurity, for example) now than their used to be.”

Another factor in the rise of children’s anxiety is more exposure to news events in this country and overseas.

“We see more, we share more,” Davidson said. “We’re hearing about natural disasters, school shootings, these things that are scary and are on the rise. We’re just exposed to it more.”

Davidson notices that kids don’t have as much down time as they had in the past. This is because, in part, our lives are getting busier.

“We’re rushed, rushing kids to piano practice or sports practice,” she noted. “There’s no time to recover from being on the move all the time.” That’s where a little boredom, here and there, could be beneficial for kids.

“They really just don’t spend enough time doing nothing. I think, as a society, we view being bored as a bad thing. But it’s not,” Davidson said.

She also notes that coping mechanisms of children are decreasing. “Kids spend more time inside. They get less physical exercise. They aren’t interacting, face to face, with people as much as they used to.”

Anxiety is not curable, but it’s treatable. “Symptoms can be very successfully managed in usually a short period of time,” Davidson said. “The first line, or gold standard evidence-based treatment for anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy, more specifically, a treatment approach called exposure and response prevention.”

In this treatment, patients are asked to confront and face their anxiety.

“Kids are asked to do these things that are uncomfortable for a long enough period of time — eventually, they habituate or become desensitized to whatever the fear is,” Davidson said, adding, in some cases, medication may be necessary in treating anxiety.

Speaking of anxiety, Davidson said, “Since our natural response is to escape and avoid things that are uncomfortable, in the long run, that just reinforces the cycle.”

While anxiety in children can be worrisome, Davidson stresses it can be treated in a relatively short period of time. “People do not need to suffer with anxiety, kids or adults.”

HOW TEACHERS AND PARENTS CAN HELP CHILDREN WITH ANXIETY

Parents and teachers play an essential role in helping children and teenagers manage anxiety.

  • Teachers can listen to kids and reward kids who show the ability to cope and engage in behavior in which they face their fears.
  • Problems with bullying or learning need to be addressed.
  • Research indicates no electronics for children under two.
  • Families should establish technology-free time at home and technology-free zones in the house.
  • Parents can help kids by decreasing their own electronic (high tech) use.
  • Parents can tell kids that, while bad things can happen, the chances of these things happening to the family are not very likely. Parents can teach kids to increase their tolerance for uncertainty.
  • Encourage kids to do things they’re most fearful of.
  • Family time is a great idea. Dinner table talk is important.
  • If parents are unsure if a child’s fear is normal or not, of it it’s interfering with their life, it might be best to consult a specialist.
  • — Information provided by Dr. Jill Davidson


    Scott Keith is a freelance writer for the Portland Tribune and the Pamplin Media Group. If you have a health tip, or a story idea, contact Scott at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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