Clinical Psychologist, Dr Veronica Harris, believes that anxiety is one of the most significant health problems affecting Australian children today.
“Some parents think that anxiety is a phase that children will grow out of, however recent research has revealed that up to 13% of children aged 4 to 13 show clinical signs of anxiety,“ she said.
“It is not uncommon for a child with an untreated anxiety disorder to later join the ranks of more than 20% of Australian adults who develop depression or other destructive coping behaviours such as the misuse of alcohol or drugs.”
Dr Harris, who is a member of the children’s health team at Kids First Children’s Services in Sydney, has worked with children and their families for more than 20 years. She says anxiety can have a significant impact on children’s learning and development.
“Some children are overcome with fear and worry, even in familiar situations. Their ability to function in the home, classroom and playground is affected as their stress prevents them from enjoying every day activities that other kids take for granted.”
Dr Harris says that children who have been bullied, have conditions like Asperger’s Syndrome or struggle with low self are also highly susceptible to anxiety.
“Kids who have been bullied often become hyper-vigilant. They see every situation as a threat and find it hard to remain calm, learn to trust others and make friends.”
According to Dr Harris, a new small group program called Courageous Kids, supporting children aged 8 to 10, encourages emotional resilience and equips kids with problem solving strategies. It also resources parents with information about how to support their children.
“Courageous Kids and programs like it help children who are anxious about change. Small group programs are good for kids because they help them to understand their feelings, build self esteem and learn the practical strategies they need to think optimistically and manage challenges like peer pressure and bullying.”
Dr Harris says that anxiety prevention and resilience programs like Courageous Kids can be of particular help to children who are quiet or anxious, have experienced emotional upheaval in their lives, or have attended several schools and have difficulty settling in.
“Anxious kids are often quiet, compliant children and as a result of their good behaviour at school, their anxiety symptoms are sometimes overlooked.”
“If this happens, they may not receive the help and support they need and this has the potential to cause serious problems in adolescence and adulthood.”
Dr Harris said that Australian and international studies have documented the on-going issues that frequently affect children whose anxiety is untreated.
“Kids who are anxious often do not perform to their potential in school. Others miss out on important social experiences or are troubled by issues like depression and relationship problems in adulthood. Research also shows that kids with entrenched and chronic anxiety disorders sometimes resort to substance abuse in an effort to manage their fears.”
“These are all good reasons for parents to seek professional advice and help for their child if they are concerned about the way in which anxiety is affecting their child’s enjoyment of and participation in everyday activities.”
The next series of Courageous Kids commences in Term 4 at Kids First Children’s Services in Brookvale. Bookings are open now. For more information, visit www.kids-first.com.au or call 02 9938 5419.
Dr Veronica Harris is a Child and Clinical Psychologist with more than 20 years of experience working with children, young people and families dealing with a wide range of difficulties. At Kids First Children’s Services in Brookvale, she works alongside Speech Pathologists, Occupational Therapists and teachers and offers counselling and psychological intervention for clinical presentations such as anxiety, behavioural disorders, ADHD and Autism. Dr Harris sees children and families with general and developmental difficulties such as behavioural management, sibling rivalry, anger management, separation anxiety, low self esteem, parental separation and family stress. To make an appointment with Dr Veronica Harris, contact Kids First Children’s Services on 9938 5419 or visit www.kids-first.com.au