Anxiety is a growing issue facing American adolescents
Benoit Denizet-Lewis, writer for the New York Times Magazine, recently published an article illuminating the pressures facing our youth, depicting gripping personal accounts of anxiety.
What was not illuminated is just how young children are being affected. The reality is that children as young as preschoolers can be afflicted with some form of anxiety and the impact can be long lasting. Research suggests that over 40% of preschool-aged children with anxiety disorders still experience symptoms four years later, and by the age of eighteen almost one in three will meet the criteria for this disorder. In fact, anxiety is the most common mental health issue experienced by both children and adolescents.
But what we also need to bear in mind is that when children are young, anxiety may manifest itself differently. Dr. Donna Housman, founder and CEO of the Housman institute, observes: “When a child is young, anxious behaviors may exhibit themselves as the child shutting down, becoming quiet, disengaging, easily unraveling, or crying when unprovoked.” In talking about these behaviors with young children, Dr. Housman notes: “Adults should be mindful about the verbiage they use. Rather than discussing anxiety, words such as ‘worries’ are easier for children to connect to. They are more developmentally appropriate.”
Dr. Housman also remarks that given the increased prevalence of anxiety, we as educators, policy makers, and parents must do a better job of scaffolding our youth to successfully be able to recognize, express, and manage difficult emotions when they inevitably arise.
We can start young by better supporting infants and preschoolers on how to effectively express and manage emotions. By helping children develop the necessary skills in self-regulation, emotion regulation, and emotional competence, we also aid our children in becoming more resilient, persist through frustration, and more successfully overcome challenges as they arise—before becoming clinical problems.
Emotions, behavior, and thinking are all intertwined. By incorporating this philosophy into our early childhood education, children will better develop the necessary competencies that support healthy development through life’s inevitable stressors.