Anx­i­ety robs chil­dren of fun: doc­tor

Says more chil­dren in the prov­ince be­ing re­ferred for treat­ment of anx­i­ety in re­cent years

The Compass - - Sports - BY GLEN WHIF­FEN

It should be fun to be a kid. Anx­i­ety in chil­dren, when it be­comes a prob­lem, can take the joy out of those youth­ful years.

Dr. Derek Singleton, a clin­i­cal so­cial worker with the Janeway Fam­ily Cen­tre in St. John’s, says there has been a sub­stan­tial in­crease in re­fer­rals to treat anx­i­ety in chil­dren over the past few years.

“I’ve been (at the Janeway Fam­ily Cen­tre) for 15 years and over the years the re­fer­rals for anx­i­ety have, I guess, been grad­u­ally in­creas­ing,” Singleton said. “Over the last sev­eral years we’ve seen a dras­tic in­crease in re­fer­rals. It started off that we’d see these kids in­di­vid­u­ally for in­di­vid­ual coun­selling, then we started do­ing group work. We’d run a group orig­i­nally called ‘Tam­ing Dragons’ but now we are us­ing a pro­gram that came out of Aus­tralia and it’s called ‘Cool Kids.’ So chil­dren with ex­tremely high anx­i­ety, we screen them, as­sess them and we run groups through the year. Right now, for the first time ever, we are run­ning two groups and each group takes four clin­i­cians — two with the kids and two with a par­ents’ group that runs si­mul­ta­ne­ously.”

Singleton says there a cou­ple of rea­sons for the in­crease in re­fer­rals to the cen­tre: more gen­eral aware­ness of the con­di­tion; and chil­dren are tak­ing part in more or­ga­nized ac­tiv­i­ties that brings on a lot of pres­sure to be the best.

“There’s a lot more pro­mo­tion of men­tal health, less stigma for seek­ing help. Ini­tia­tives like Bell Let’s Talk put things out in the open so that it’s OK to talk about it. So that plays a fac­tor,” he said.

“An­other thing, kids are ex­tremely sched­uled. A lot of kids don’t have a lot of down­time. They are al­ways do­ing some­thing. There’s a lot of pres­sure to be the best. It doesn’t mat­ter what it is, whether sports or mu­sic, and that brings on anx­i­ety. Kids can also put a lot of pres­sure on them­selves to per­form.”

Singleton noted that par­ents — through good in­ten­tions — of­ten pro­tect their chil­dren from neg­a­tive out­comes and that de­nies them the abil­ity to de­velop cer­tain cop­ing mech­a­nisms.

“Years ago if some­thing bad hap­pened, a lot of the time you dealt with it and through these life ex­pe­ri­ences you de­vel­oped cop­ing skills,” he said. “Now we see kids who don’t have ba­sic cop­ing skills. We spend a lot of time in in­di­vid­ual coun­selling, group coun­selling and work­ing with par­ents try­ing to help kids de­velop cop­ing skills be­cause some­times par­ents are jump­ing in to pro­tect their kids from ev­ery kind of neg­a­tive out­come.”

Singleton also noted that a child hav­ing a small amount of anx­i­ety is nat­u­ral and can even help in­spire them to do some­thing. Prob­lems arise, he said, when anx­i­ety lev­els rise to a point where it neg­a­tively im­pacts a child’s be­hav­iour.

“The one thing we al­ways try to em­pha­size is that anx­i­ety is nor­mal, that it is al­right to ex­pe­ri­ence anx­i­ety,” he said. “A lot of times anx­i­ety can mo­ti­vate us. If you have a test and if you are a pro­cras­ti­na­tor, that anx­i­ety you feel the night be­fore mo­ti­vates you to cram. It is nec­es­sary and helpful. What we are see­ing as a prob­lem is when the anx­i­ety gets so great that in­stead of be­ing a mo­ti­va­tor, they avoid do­ing things and par­tic­i­pat­ing in things. A lot of up­set bel­lies, stay­ing home from school be­cause of a test or a gym class, or they are sup­posed to do pub­lic speak­ing. The more they avoid, avoid­ance be­comes a cop­ing mech­a­nism for kids and then if that con­tin­ues for long pe­ri­ods of time, that trans­fers to other ar­eas of their life.”

And when anx­i­ety reaches those lev­els it can, in turn, “hold fam­i­lies hostage.”

“When anx­i­ety be­comes prob­lem­atic it af­fects other sib­lings, par­ents, it tends to af­fect ev­ery­body. We want to pro­vide sup­port for par­ents and not just the child with the anx­i­ety,” Singleton said. “Even in the school sys­tem we get a lot of calls. We do a lot of in-ser­vice on PT (par­ent-teacher) days for ele­men­tary schools be­cause we see it in the re­fer­rals that come to the Janeway Fam­ily Cen­tre and the Janeway psy­chi­a­try. The schools are see­ing it, so we go up and we’re do­ing train­ing with the teach­ers and school staff.”

East­ern Health re­cently an­nounced an in­for­ma­tion ses­sion tak­ing place this week called “Anx­i­ety in chil­dren age 5-12 years old: What it looks like and what you can do to help.”

“We know kids are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing anx­i­ety and if we are see­ing it pro­fes­sion­ally, and the schools are see­ing it, ob­vi­ously par­ents are strug­gling with it at home,” Singleton said. “And one of the things we know in work­ing with kids is the par­ents need sup­port and guid­ance, so we run these in­for­ma­tion ses­sions. We’ve seen an in­crease in de­mand so the num­bers of par­ents at­tend­ing these now are higher than they were years ago.”

Not ev­ery child who de­vel­ops a high level of anx­i­ety needs therapy. The cen­tre, Singleton noted, runs a pro­gram called ‘Par­ent­ing Your Anx­ious Child (PYAC)’ that helps par­ents un­der­stand anx­i­ety and teaches them ways to re­spond through par­ent­ing. If those mea­sures don’t al­le­vi­ate the prob­lem, he said, then the child can ob­tain pro­fes­sional in­ter­ven­tion.

He also said that first as­sess­ing each child prop­erly is key to de­ter­min­ing how best to help them.

“Some­times dif­fer­ent types of trauma is la­belled as anx­i­ety. It could be abuse,” Singleton said. “There’s refugees and im­mi­grants ad­just­ing to Canadian so­ci­ety and they come in, a lot of times, with trau­matic his­to­ries and back­grounds and it may present to look like anx­i­ety but it is trauma, and the treat­ment for that is to­tally dif­fer­ent.

“When we are screen­ing and do­ing as­sess­ments up front, we are mak­ing sure that just be­cause some­one is pre­sent­ing as anx­i­ety ... when the screen­ings are done it may de­ter­mine the is­sue is some­thing else.

Screen­ing and as­sess­ment are crit­i­cal to de­ter­min­ing the is­sue and the course of treat­ment.”

“Years ago if some­thing bad hap­pened, a lot of the time you dealt with it and through these life ex­pe­ri­ences you de­vel­oped cop­ing skills. Now we see kids who don’t have ba­sic cop­ing skills.”

Dr. Derek Singleton


So­cial worker Derek Singleton says many schools in New­found­land and Labrador are try­ing to help stu­dents man­age anx­i­ety.

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