I have personally seen an incredible increase in anxiety in schools over the past ten years. I believe it has a lot to do with the pace of life and the accessibility we have to events happening all around the world, at any given moment.
I know I get overwhelmed as an adult! So think of our children’s brains that are even less equipped to manage this information overload.
Anxiety disorders are a common mental health problem amongst young Australians today. According to reports, anxiety disorders are thought to affect 1 in 5 females between the ages of 16 – 24, and almost 1 in 10 males of the same age.
However, anxiety can begin in children even younger. It has been reported that half of all children and adolescents between the ages of 4 – 17 who suffer from a mental disorder also have an anxiety disorder.
Typically, about half of people with anxiety disorders report experiencing their first symptoms around the age of 11 years.
WHAT'S HAPPENING IN A CHILD'S BRAIN?
Think of the brain as different sections – the front, back, left and right. The sections have to function well on their own and work well together. The stronger the connections between each part, the greater a person’s capacity to relate, respond, learn, and grow.
It’s similar to the way a sports team works: each participant on the team needs to perform to the best of their ability, but if each insists on outperforming everyone else, there is chaos. A strong team comprises members who all participate, whether it means stepping back to let others do what they do best, or working hard on the front line. The brain is the same.
The good news is that the brain is open to change, which is referred to as experience-dependent neuroplasticity. For children, this means that every experience they are exposed to can change and strengthen their brain functions. Understanding what goes on in the mind and brain during anxiety can help to understand how we can assist our children.
Our brains are made up of two hemispheres, the left and the right. Each side is connected to the other by a bundle of fibres, or corpus callosum. It is along these fibres that communication occurs, but sometimes, especially during anxiety, the messages don’t flow smoothly. The left and right side have different ways of dealing with situations, and both are needed for various reasons. During anxiety, the right side typically takes over, and we feel overwhelmed and nonsensical.
The left side of the brain is our logic; it describes or experiences everything in a logical manner. The right side deals with emotions and the bigger picture of what each experience means. It draws on feelings, imagery, and memories, and is directed by sensations in the body along with messages from our lower brain – the major player in anxiety conditions. Both sides of the brain need to work together for our feelings, logic, and emotions to be in harmony.
Adults can help children reinforce the connections in their brain so that all the sides work together.
PARENTS AND TEACHERS CAN HELP KIDS WITH ANXIETY
If a child is experiencing anxiety, there is a great deal parents and teachers can do to help.
Adults can teach children relaxation techniques, encourage them to speak about their fears, and practise breathing, mindfulness and grounding exercises with their child.
Specialist programs that focus on mindfulness can help children respond to anxiety and stress. By learning to develop self-awareness, partaking in programs that help develop stronger social skills and other coping mechanisms, and participating in relaxing exercises, such as yoga and non–competitive sports programs children and teens can increase their impulse control and develop self-regulation to help them cope with anxiety.
Through increased empathy, improved confidence, stronger communication skills, and effective mindfulness and relaxation techniques, children can successfully build their own toolkits to help overcome anxiety.
HOW CAN LIFE SKILLS GROUP HELP ANXIOUS CHILDREN?
At Life Skills Group we not only give children tools to overcome anxiety, we also educate teachers and parents to help children succeed.