Creekside Middle School

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Creekside Middle School

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Creekside Middle School Parent Presentation

Presenter: Laura Guzzi, LCSW

St. Vincent Carmel Medical Social Work


What is Anxiety?





Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in time. For example, it is normal to feel anxious when on a rollercoaster or before an exam. Young children can experience stranger anxiety and older children often get nervous performing in front of their peers




not dangerous


Although anxiety feels uncomfortable, it is temporary, and will eventually decrease.





Anxiety helps us prepare for real danger, such as crossing a busy street. It can also help us perform at our best, and motivate us to study for an exam or practice for a big game. When we experience anxiety, it triggers our "fight-flight-freeze" response, and prepares our body to react. For instance, our heart beats


to pump blood to our muscles, so we have the energy to run away or fight off danger. Without it, we would not survive.


How is anxiety triggered?



amygdala is an almond-shaped structure deep in the brain that is believed to be a communications hub between the parts of the brain that process incoming sensory signals and the parts that interpret these signals.


can alert the rest of the brain that a threat is present and trigger a fear or anxiety response.

When the amygdala is stressed, information is not transferred. Information is then processed directly by the amygdala itself which in turn triggers our fight or flight response. When information is not transferred to the prefrontal cortex, there is not an opportunity to make good decisions for ourselves…we just react.

Research has shown that our flight or fight response is equally triggered by events that vary greatly in significance. For example, missing a light in traffic and losing your job both trigger the release of cortisol and other hormones.


Manifestations of Anxiety:

Physically - Anxiety

is felt in the body

. Often, when young children feel anxious, they do not actually recognize or describe it as anxiety or nervousness. Instead, they may say that they feel sick, or have a


Teens may

also complain


similar symptoms as well as headaches



or nightmares.

Mentally - Anxious

children and teens worry!

These worries can be about a

past or current

situation or about some future event. Young children may not be able to identify any anxious thoughts even when they are very anxious.

Behaviorally -

Some children become so anxious that they alter their behavior to protect themselves from experiencing anxiety. For example, some children have rituals they perform as a means of protecting themselves (hand washing) or some may refuse to sleep over at another child’s house.


ome may act out in other ways as a means of avoiding an uncomfortable situation.


What Warrants a Closer Look?


the behaviors of anxious children and teens can seem unreasonable to others. These children and teens may be labeled as "difficult", "stubborn" or "too sensitive". Indeed, their actions can be very frustrating for the entire family!


is important to remember that an anxious child or teen who lashes out, cries, and avoids situations is, in fact,

responding instinctually to a perceived threat

. Like

an animal who is frightened, your

child is reacting by either fighting (e.g. yelling, tantrums), fleeing (e.g. avoiding), and/or freezing (e.g. mind going blank



disorders last at least 6 months and can get worse if they are not treated. Each anxiety disorder has different symptoms, but all the symptoms cluster around excessive, irrational fear and dread




Anxiety Disorders


Generalized Anxiety

Disorder, OCD, Panic Disorder, PTSD, Social

phobia or social anxiety disorder


What do Middle-Schoolers worry about most often?

Several studies indicate that the top five worries for Middle School Students include:

Having friends and being liked by peers

Fitting in, both in terms of physical appearance and social acceptance

Getting good grades and managing the demands of school

Fretting over being “a failure” or disappointing someone

Family issues including finances, relationships, etc.


At the Crossroads

Middle School Students are in a unique position:

At no other stage of development do students encounter so many differences in themselves and others. Their physical appearances often differ greatly in terms of height and weight.

Most want to belong to a peer group and at the same time individuate from their parents.

In addition, the Middle School setting encourages students to live within a more complicated and demanding system (as opposed to Elementary School).

While there can be a heightened sense of anxiety, there are also wonderful opportunities to experience a sense of mastery.


Talking with Kids about Anxiety:

Use the Smoke Alarm analogy to help kids understand what is going on in their bodies:“An alarm can help protect us when there is an actual fire, but sometimes a smoke alarm is too sensitive and goes off when there isn’t really a fire (e.g. burning toast in toaster).  Like a smoke alarm, anxiety is helpful when it works to help make us aware of true dangers. But when it goes off when there is no real danger, then it is worth exploring so we can fix it.”  


What can you do as a parent to help your child cope with anxiety?

 Establish routines and structureAs parents, it is helpful to establish consistency in schedules and discipline. Anxious children cope more effectively if they have an idea of what to expect. It is important for them to have limits and consequences on behavior.  Be mindful of your children’s basic needs to prevent fatigue and hunger. Twelve step programs encourage members to be aware of self-care by using the acronym HALT:H – hungryA – angryL – lonelyT – tiredIf your child is hungry, angry, lonely , or tired, he/she is not likely to handle stress well. This is true for us as parents as well!


2) Help your child(ren) identify feelings and provide opportunities for them to discuss feelingsBy talking about their feelings, children are better able to self-monitor when their anxiety might be ramping up. You might also ask, “In what part of your body do you feel anxiety?” (Examples are: stomach, chest, head)One exercise that may help you get started:High/Low At the dinner table or in the evening when the family has time to get together, have each family member talk about a high point and low point of his/her day. Other family members can ask questions about how they felt, handled the situation, etc.


3) Comfort Your Child:Often as our children grow, we are often not as quick to cuddle with them as when they were younger. There is a great deal of research that shows that the more often children are hugged or touched, the better they manage challenging situations. Having a movie night on the couch together or offering quick back or foot rub is a great way to help your child relax and may open a door to communication that otherwise might not have occurred. 4) Model positive coping behaviors:Children look to their parents for guidance, even when we are not aware they are watching us. It is important that we take time to engage in relaxation activities ourselves and set a positive example. Taking a minute to take a walk when feeling stressed and sharing how this has helped you, helps your child understand how they could use this tool as well.


5) Monitor your child’s social groupAre they supportive of one another? Do they tear each other down? Helping your child recognize patterns of interaction can be helpful as they continue to develop friendships with new peers. Also, talking with children about social media and helping them better understand how they are impacted by posts or tweets as well as how they can impact others can go a long way in relieving some fears or anxieties.  6) Help your child identify helpful adults and/or friends in their peer group and have a plan in placeIt’s often helpful to let your child’s guidance counselor know that your child is struggling with anxiety and the guidance counselor can talk to your child and get to know him/her. If your child has more anxiety in certain social settings, maybe there is another parent or coach they can see if things get difficult. Some schools utilize a “hot pass” that a child can show to the teacher which automatically allows him/her to leave the room. This is helpful because it serves as an escape strategy. Children’s anxiety is often heightened if they do not have a plan or they are fearful of having a panic attack in front of their peers.


7) Encourage a healthy lifestyleWe know how beneficial it is for us to eat well and to exercise. This is especially important for children. Too much sugar or caffeine can enhance feelings of anxiety. Taking a few minutes to exercise everyday helps children better understand how moving their bodies can help release anxious feelings.  8) Challenge unhelpful thoughtsAnxious children and adults often catastrophize, for example. Your child might think of all the things that could go poorly during an important event. What if I blank out during the test?, for example. It is helpful to encourage the child to stay in the present. Unhelpful thoughts sometimes include absolutes, like always and never. “I always mess things up.”, Challenge that by reminding your child of a time he or she did well. Be a detective. Look for patterns. Have your child track when, where, and in what situations they experience anxiety and what makes them feel good.


Tools for Kids – And Adults!

RelaxationDeep Breathing (diaphragmatic or deep belly) Learning to become aware of your breath is a powerful tool that can be used to interrupt negative thoughts. And it’s a tool that they always have access to. When we are anxious or in pain, we often engage in shallow breathing without even realizing it. We can use various breathing exercises to help ourselves calm down more quickly…and we can use them without anyone else being aware that we are doing so! 4-7-8 Breathing – Breathe in for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7 and slowly release your breath to a count of 8.Progressive muscle relaxationThe Naming Game – Naming items you see in the room can often help distract anxious thoughts.Meditation – Loving Kindness MeditationAromatherapy – Oils like lavender and mandarin are great to help manage anxietyApps for teens– Breath2Relax and MindShift The more often you practice these exercises, the more quickly your body recognizes what you are doing and you can access a state of relaxation more quickly.


JournalJournaling about daily events or stressors can help us better recognize patterns of coping that may or may not be helpful. It can help us devise a plan of how we would like to react to specific stressors. This is particularly helpful if you can encourage kids to keep a “Gratitude” Journal to keep record of a few (3-5) things each day that they are grateful for. There are many ways to journal that include writing, collage or photo journaling. There are many coloring books devoted to mindfulness that can help too. Listen to music, play an instrumentMusic can be an incredible way to help us relax or re-energize, depending on the music we choose to listen to. Playing an instrument can help us articulate things in a different way than we can with words alone. And a kitchen dance party…always a good idea!Practice positivityWe are wired to focus on the things occurring in our day that don’t go well. Research shows that we need at least three positive statements to counteract every negative statement. Is there a way you can model this or help your child to reframe the way he or she looks at things? Is there something they can identify that went well in a situation? Learning to find the good in situations, even if they don’t turn out as we anticipated is a great life long skill to learn.


Get some Fresh Air – Go Outside Writer, Richard Louv, coined the term “nature deficit disorder” to describe the decline in the amount time children now spend outdoors. He reasons that the increase in many of the behavioral and mental health issues experienced by children could be attributed to the diminished amount of time they spend outdoors. “Kids who do play outside are less likely to get sick, to be stressed or become aggressive, and are more adaptable to life’s unpredictable turns,” says Louv. Take an Electronics Break“The average young American now spends practically every minute — except for the time in school – using a smartphone, computer, television or electronic device,” reports a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study. Taking a break encourages children to get up and move their bodies, to get more sleep or to spend time daydreaming.


As mentioned in the beginning, each of us struggles with some anxiety each day. Teaching our children at a young age how to better manage daily worries will be a huge benefit to them as they grow to become happy, successful adults.

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