Today we are facing an epidemic of anxiety, affecting not only adults but also increasingly our children. In infants we are seeing a rise of feeding and sleeping problems and in young children, school refusal and behavioral difficulties are becoming more common.
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Anxiety has multiple contributing factors that lead to its development. We know that there is a genetic component, that is, the children of either one or both anxious parents are more likely to experience anxiety.
Then there is our individual temperament or personality, which is shaped by both our genes and the environment in which we live. It makes sense then that a child with a genetic predisposition to being anxious, brought up in an anxious household where this behavior is the norm, is more likely to have anxiety issues.
Modern Western Society
We have become so technologically advanced and yet in other ways seem to be living in a seemingly backward state of mindless, fast paced chaos and destruction all over the world. We seem to have missed the point of what truly living in a wholehearted, contented manner is all about.
We have become so achievement driven that our daily life has been consumed by schedules, deadlines, and everyone is busier than the next person. At the same time it seems that we are always striving to achieve happiness, which we believe may come in some distant future once we have gone to school, got into university, got a job, bought a house, got married, paid off the mortgage and traveled the world.
What We See In Our Children
In response to this increasingly pressurizing, goal driven, future focused society kids develop “behavior issues” or anxiety disorders Living with a baseline of heightened stress levels.
In the best cases, they stay at this level, with dissatisfaction and unease slowly infiltrating their psyche. In other cases, the consequences of being in this prolonged heightened state of arousal result in the inevitable decline into a more depressed and demoralized state.
So What Can We Do About It
We need to re frame how we interact and engage with our children and tackle anxiety from a normalizing and preventative outlook. The key is in not making life easier for our kids by choosing the perfect school, after-school activities, tutor or experiences for them in attempt to get rid of, or minimize the chances of becoming anxious. In fact the opposite holds true.
As much as it may go against our very nature, we need to expose our kids to a variety of experiences, unpredictability and uncertainty, whilst modeling a flexible approach to dealing with life. We need to teach them how to manage their emotional states, rather than confuse them with statements like “It’s all okay” or “It will be fine” when they are feeling overwhelmed or distressed, as we do not necessarily know the outcome. This is just confusing!
Preventative measures and early intervention are the key, as well as modeling through our own behaviors the way to live in a more mindful way. We need to show our children that all we really have is what is happening in this present moment, rather than constantly striving and living for some delayed notion of happiness.