How you can help your ‘scared kids’

A course for anybody who either lives with children, cares for children or works with children. Niall Gormley spoke to David Coleman, the designer of a new online course to help tackle the issues surrounding anxiety in children.

You don’t have to be a clinical psychologist to become a parent, or to be a parent, or to succeed as a parent. But, given the pressures on parents and children these days, having one to hand could prove very useful.

A new online course by well known psychologist and broadcaster David Coleman aims to help people, and not just parents, get to grips with many of the things that cause anxiety in today’s teenagers.

The course is called “Scared Kids – Helping Children Cope with Anxiety” and aims to deal with a broad swathe of the issues facing children. It’s available on all the usual computer and smartphone platforms and can be completed at a pace that suits the user.

Course background

I asked David who the course is designed for and where the demand for this type of information and support is coming from.

“The course is specifically designed for adults who are living or working with children who may be experiencing anxiety, to give the adults a better understanding of childhood anxiety, ” he says.

“We have a whole host of strategies and tools that they can use to help children deal with their own anxieties. It’s designed as a course for adults but with the goal of helping children to deal with their anxieties.”

David says that the view that children are experiencing new levels of stress and anxiety is borne out by referrals to psychological services, both public and private. He has seen a large increase in the number of children with anxiety being referred to him by their parents. 

He thinks that there is definitely a stronger sense that children are worried about things that in the past they wouldn’t have been as conscious of, or as concerned about. In turn, parents are worried that these symptoms may be part of a bigger mental health problem for their children.

Some parents might be reacting to what could be normal childhood worries and if the parent begins to panic, that just increases the level of anxiety that children feel. 

Emotional well-being 

Are there trends in society that are causing more anxiety for children, including the role that technology and social media are playing?

He thinks that there is probably a greater focus on children’s emotional well-being anyway. Adults are more aware of the issues and so they are better at spotting problems now.

He says that there are also more families that are socially isolated, living away from traditional community supports that were there in the past. These parents are more stressed themselves and that is transferring to children.

“And yes, the internet has had an impact. There are a lot more kids who do a lot less socially and are exposed to a lot less of the normal rough and tumble challenges of life. Therefore, when challenges come their way, they don’t have the emotional resilience and their anxieties spike.”

The course that David has built is based on a cognitive behavioural approach to dealing with anxiety, dealing with the way that children think, the way that they feel, the way that they act and their physical selves.

“Those four key elements are all interconnected and interrelated. So we can see that anxiety has a very physical component to it, there’s adrenaline and so on. There’s a lot in the course about the way that children might be thinking in terms of their cognitions,” he says.

What children do in response to anxiety is also very relevant, so the course structure breaks these elements down, looking at the role of the brain and how it responds to risk and danger. The course looks at the four key areas and outlines what we can do as adults to influence those key areas.

Course format

The course is broken into eight modules and each module takes about 20 to 30 minutes. The learner can start and stop within each module. Usefully, the course is designed so that it doesn’t have to be completed sequentially and the user can target the areas they have a particular interest in.

“For example, some people might be very conscious of the physical reactions of their child, they might be worried that their child gets butterflies in their tummy or is visibly tense,” says David.

“That parent can go straight to the module on physicality and then, hopefully, they can pick up that there may be more to the issue than the physical signs. They can then pursue the other modules and see that if you can relieve some of the physical symptoms, then you can work to shift the child into a more positive way of thinking.”

The course is a combination of powerpoint-type presentations combined with videos covering the more physical aspects such as breathing exercises. There’s also an e-book that can be downloaded and printed for people who prefer a traditional learning environment or who want reference material as they progress.

The course includes an ‘Adult Stress Management Diary and Guide’ to help adults to cope with their own stresses and strains. David says that keeping a diary is a great way for adults to be mindful of the key stress times during the day. It could be about getting kids out in the morning or about getting homework done in the evening.

Teachers well attuned

David believes that the education system is doing quite well with regard to the emotional wellbeing of students and that teachers are well attuned to the needs of the children in their care during the day. In fact, he thinks that many parents pass the responsibility over to schools in things like sex education and the SPHE areas.

This is his first foray into the world of online learning and he was quite surprised at the amount of background work required to build the modules and the course material. As an author, he found it similar to writing a book in building up the meaningful components of the course and getting the various parts to work together.

FIND OUT MORE:

The Scared Kids course costs €200 and is available at
anokhalearning.com/helping-children-cope-with-anxiety