The rate of anxiety in Australian children is growing at an alarming rate, with children as young as five years old being prescribed addictive anti-anxiety drugs. Experts agree that one of the main reasons for these escalating figures is linked to one or both parents displaying signs of anxiety which the children imitate.
Counselling Psychotherapist and Relationship expert Dr Karen Phillip advises “If children have a parent struggling with anxiety, they often emulate this behaviour believing it to be the normal way to cope with challenges and situations. Their anxiety is often just fear.”
A recent report from the USA revealed more than 130,000 children under the age of 5 years, including 39,000 infants and toddlers, are being prescribed anti-anxiety drugs that are so addictive, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns they should not be prescribed. These figures are alarming!
Statistics from the American Mental Health Watchdog revealed that of this figure, over 98,000 of 2 to 5-year-olds, were prescribed these addictive drugs. There has been a nearly 300 percent increase in the drugs prescribed to babies and toddlers under the age of two since 2003.
We in Australia are developing a similar problem. The latest PBS data suggests rates of antipsychotic and anti-anxiety prescribed drugs among children is on the rise, with numbers growing. In 2012, an estimated 12,680 children were taking antipsychotics and anti-anxiety drugs which can be addictive. NPS Medicine advises many childhood problems can be resolved without using drugs. Anxiety disorders in children respond well to psychological and counselling treatments. There is evidence supporting this as first-line therapy in children.
Identifying any anxiety in your child is important. If your child:
- feels anxious more than other children of a similar age
- stops them participating in activities at school, sport or socially
- interferes with their ability to do things that other children their age do
- tend to lack confidence in their abilities and feel overwhelmed easily
- dislike taking risks or trying new things
- get upset easily
- avoid situations they feel worried or scared about
- seek reassurance often
It is essential parents learn to develop their coping and problem-solving skills to set and model good coping skills and teach the child how to face and overcome challenges. It is learning from the parent that set’s the child’s map of their world and teaches them their coping skills. When this lesson is not acquired, anxiety escalations appear.
Dr Karen believes “we each have the capacity to deal with life challenges, once we know how.” Learning to take charge of your own responses is essential. We often react to something that is thrown into our life expectedly, and this can display as anxiety. What we want to do instead is respond, not react. Dr Karen has a great Decrease Anxiety on-line session helping parents develop these skills. Responding is thinking first, and making a conscious, thoughtful choice before doing or saying something. It permits us to process. It enables us to remain more calm and focused. All of us, including children, need to learn how to process.
To support your child displaying anxious behaviours:
- Never tell them they are over-reacting
- Ask what it is they feel and the reason why
- Provide them a suggestion on an alternative way to feel
- Enquire what they need to feel different or better
- Encourage and support them to work through their fear
- Show them how you manage a fear or concern with strategies and strength
We need to protect the most precious gift, our children. It is our responsibility to model and teach our kids resilience skills.