Anxiety in North American Children is on the Rise and Current Coping Methods are Contributing to the Problem

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Sharon Selby, Registered Clinical Counsellor, says anxiety needs to be caught early and tools need to be given to teach children to understand their anxiety and how to overpower it - there are three key mind shifts we need to make as parents and educators to decrease anxiety.

“Stress is the #1 health epidemic of the 21st century and parents and children are feeling it! Selby’s valuable book provides playful, science-based strategies to combat the “Worry Imps” in our lives,” says Dr. Shimi Kang, Psychiatrist and Best-Selling Author of The Dolphin Parent.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, up to 20 per cent of Canadian children and youth are at risk to develop a mental disorder. Anxiety is one of the mental health conditions now on the rise, as Canada is experiencing the highest rates of anxiety in children.

Sharon Selby, MA, Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC), who has been counseling children and families for more than 20 years, has seen anxiety as a growing problem facing Canadian youth, and believes anxiety is unfortunately being exacerbated by the fact that current methods for dealing with anxiety are contributing to the problem.

“Knowing how to handle anxiety is counter-intuitive,” says Selby. “The things we think would help - such as offering reassurance, making accommodations, and allowing avoidance - all make the anxiety worse.”

According to Selby, anxiety needs to be caught early and tools need to be given to teach children to understand their anxiety and how to overpower it, and there are three key mind shifts we need to make as parents and educators to decrease anxiety.

MindShift #1: The Worry Voice (negative voice) that exists in all of us is not real nor is it something that we can control and have power over.
There are real reasons to be alarmed and others that are false. So when a child is scared or worried, they need to ask themselves, is this a true alarm? If so, “do I need to fight/flight/freeze or is this a false alarm and I need to do the opposite of what my body and mind are telling me to do?” This feels very counterintuitive, but this is the key for children to be able to control their anxiety vs. the anxiety feeding off of them and building to the point that it is controlling their actions.

MindShift #2: The second big MindShift is to realize the power of our thoughts, and that our thoughts create our feelings and our feelings create our actions.
Two people can experience the exact same situation but by having opposite thoughts, they can have completely different feelings and actions. If children can transform their fear-based negative thoughts to positive helpful thoughts, they will be able to keep themselves calm. If children see life through a fear-based lens, they will always be in survival mode. Our ancestors lived this way out of necessity, but we don’t need to live this way. We all have anxiety which is important for keeping us alert for danger when true fear is upon us, but worrying all the time does not keep us safe. The idea that worrying keeps us safe is an illusion and not real, and actually restricts us.

MindShift #3: The third powerful MindShift is to realize that when one is experiencing big uncomfortable feelings, one does not have to react to them.
Research shows that an emotion only lasts for 90 seconds if we don’t feed it.
A self-regulated response involves noticing the big uncomfortable feelings inside of us and instead of reacting and going into fight/flight or freeze, taking deep breaths, observing our anxious thoughts and feelings, slowly noticing them dissipate and fade away. If children can learn to stay in the present, focus on taking deep breaths and just notice our thoughts and uncomfortable feelings, they can surf the wave of emotion.

“If children can learn these three very important MindShifts when they are young, they will be able to have greater resilience and be better able to handle distress, instead of being overcome by anxiety,” says Selby.

To help parents and children learn these tools on how to overcome anxiety, Selby has just released a comprehensive anxiety management resource in the format of a children’s book, called: Surfing the Worry Imp’s Wave. Selby’s purpose of publishing the book is to help parents and educators understand how to help their children overpower anxiety from an early age, thereby decreasing the record-high rates of anxiety everywhere.

Surfing the Worry Imp’s Wave, and the accompanying free digital discussion and activity guide, is a culmination of all the concepts, strategies and activities Selby employs when treating children with anxiety in her private practice, through 1:1 counselling and anxiety management groups. For more information, and to pre-orders, visit:

The kickstarter campaign for Surfing the Worry Imp's Wave has raised over $10K CDN since its launch on January 4th, 2018 and is currently ranked 7th out of 6975 books worldwide for the most popular children's books on the kickstarter platform, and is first in Canada.

Sharon Selby (MA, Registered Clinical Counsellor) has been counseling children and families for more than 20 years and runs a busy private practice in West Vancouver, BC, where she supports many children and teens with anxiety through 1:1 counselling, and also runs several groups throughout the year to teach children about anxiety and anxiety management strategies. Selby is passionate about helping families feel less stress and anxiety, and more calm in their lives.

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Debra Hadden

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