How to address stress, anxiety in children

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The economic slump in Alberta has been linked to increased need for mental health services, an increase in the instance of domestic violence incidents in the province and, according to Linda McKenzie, family counsellor at Community Links, family stress and anxiety levels have increased, especially for children.

“Alberta has definitely suffered financial hardships, which also connects with suffering with psychological stress for everyone in the family,” she said. “So I definitely do see a huge increase with working with my clients.”

Alberta’s unemployment rate has only decreased slightly in the past year by less than a single percentage from 8.6 per cent in 2016 to 7.8 per cent. A full per cent more than the national average, which was 6.3 per cent in October.

McKenzie said it’s important for parents to keep an eye out for warning signs in children who may be dealing with increased levels of stress and anxiety.

“When the stress is to a point that is unmanageable for (children), we can talk about grade changes in school,” she said. “There’s usually a drop in motivation in the classroom for some children – it’s hard for them to concentrate.”

She added levels of self-care are also a big indicator of unmanageable stress and anxiety. Warning signs to watch for include changes is sleeping patterns, appetite, friendships and exercise.

“We know that we all experience stress on a daily basis and the goal is to try to take that on in a way that we can manage that effectively,” she said.

Chris Pawluck, Rocky View School Board’s lead psychologist, agreed that parents and teachers need to help students learn to deal with stress.

“When we’re protecting our kids from mild stressors, they don’t get the opportunity to experience mild stress and overcome it,” he said. “Therefore, when they actually face a moderate stressor like a diploma exam – they just collapse in a heap.”

Pawluck said the key to helping kids deal with stress is differentiating between good stress and “toxic stress” that could lead to a negative outcome and then helping them work through that.

“If they’re scared of big dogs – we can hang out with little dogs and then eventually work our way up to big dogs so they can kind of overcome that,” he said.

According to Pawluck, eating well, exercising regularly and a good nights sleep are the biggest solutions to dealing with stress.

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