HOWELL – Students in elementary and middle school could benefit from the tools to cope with anxiety, said personnel leading an event on that topic for parents and educators.
The speaking event discussed anxiety issues among children and featured licensed psychologist Dr. Alison Block, Ph. D., January 17 at the Southard School.
Howell Township Public Schools sponsored the event, through its partnership with RWJBarnabas Health Institute for Prevention. Abby Priece, a prevention specialist at the Aldrich School, decided to hold the event after witnessing a growing level of anxiety among the children she works with.
“From a prevention standpoint I think now is a great time, during elementary school and middle school, to start equipping them with skills that they need to navigate all of those emotions, so they can have other outlets and sources that they can draw from,” said Priece.
The event, titled “Anxiety: What’s Normal, What’s Not, and What To Do About It,” focused on how parents can recognize anxiety in their children and provided suggestions for reducing it, such as normalizing struggle and promoting self-efficacy.
“Normalizing struggle is an important way to let children know that it’s okay to have some worry and that the key is being able to figure out how you’re going to deal with it,” said Dr. Block.
She added that parents can use episodes of worry and anxiety in children as an opportunity for dialogue. Instead of just solving the problem for them, she suggested that parents ask their children what they think they could have done differently during a stressful situation.
Some common anxiety disorders were discussed, such as separation anxiety, specific phobia, social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.
According to Dr. Block, anywhere from 3 to 30 percent of young children experience anxiety. If its not addressed early through treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, that rate increases to 25 percent in teens and 51 percent in college students.
Dr. Block said the key is figuring out what a child is thinking, because that leads to the common physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety that parents see regularly, such as stomach aches, crying, whining or avoiding school functions.
“When someone comes to my office at any age, I will tell them within the first three sessions that if you learn nothing else from me, if you learn how to identify what you’re thinking, see whether those thoughts are accurate and constructive and learn how to change them if they’re not, I will feel proud that I have given you a life skill that you will be able to use forever — in every relationship, in everything you do,” said Dr. Block.
As the director of the Health Psychology Center in Little Silver, Block said her patients are made up of about one third children, one third teens and one third adults. The number of children and teens she sees can also spike during the start of the schoolyear.
“We are amongst a tsunami of anxiety,” said Dr. Block. “We want to create more resilient, problem-solving children.”