Life Health

U of M psychology professor talks about anxiety in children

By Adam Peleshaty, Interlake Publishing

Dr. John Walker from the University of Manitoba made a presentation on childhood anxiety inside Stony Mountain School Nov. 24. (Adam Peleshaty, Interlake Publishing, Postmedia Network)

Dr. John Walker from the University of Manitoba made a presentation on childhood anxiety inside Stony Mountain School Nov. 24. (Adam Peleshaty, Interlake Publishing, Postmedia Network)

Dr. John Walker, a professor of clinical health psychology at the University of Manitoba, made a presentation to parents and educators at Stony Mountain School, Nov. 24, about how anxiety can affect young children.

Walker identified many different types of anxiety commonly found in children: separation anxiety, specific fears, social anxiety, generalized anxiety (worrying), panic attacks, selective mutism and refusing to go to school. Anxiety typically starts to appear in children at around six years of age and it has been linked to academic difficulties and substance use in later life.

While 41% of children will have an anxiety problem and 22% of children will have a severe problem, with a higher prevalence in children with other mental and developmental disorders, he says it is normal for anyone to be anxious.

“Basically, fear and anxiety are healthy emotions; they’re important,” Walker said. “It’s important for us to be able to feel fear and have anxiety because it has some positive value. It tells us to stay away from situations that are dangerous.”

There are ways to reduce a child’s anxiety such as preparing for unfamiliar events, but another is making friends through real-life interaction, not online.

“It’s great to have friends on the Internet, but to really function well and to learn all the lessons you need, you need to have a friend in your school, down the street, close by, someone you can see in person and do things with,” Walker said.

He also discussed the causes of anxiety which range from environmental, such as family stress and diet, to genetic. Walker said parents are most important in helping their children.

“The advantage of parents working on the problem is help can be applied…really early on. Three, four, five years of age. Parents can do a lot of things,” he said, adding parents can work more on their children than a therapist and are more likely to remember and implement strategies after initial intervention.

Walker also developed Coaching For Confidence, a 10-week online program and evaluation study to help parents help children with anxiety. For more information, email coachingforconfidence@umanitoba.ca or call 204-237-2055.

The Interlake region of the Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba (ADAM) can also be emailed at interlake@adam.mb.ca.



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