Boosting children’s confidence

By Payge Woodard

A young girl sees a tarantula in the jungle. What does she do?

Family members and professionals who interact with people who have anxiety disorder learned some answers at Autism Nova Scotia’s anxiety workshop, led by psychologist Dr. April Sullivan, Wednesday evening at The IWK Health Centre.

Sullivan taught those in attendance about methods to cope with anxiety – methods that stopped her daughter from running from the orange tarantula she faced on a jungle walk during a family trip. Her daughter was anxious about a trip to Costa Rica, because she’d heard about the spiders there.

“What had happened was not a love of spiders, but she had confidence she could face it,” she says.

Tara Camilleri, who attended, has a daughter with a condition that increases her sense of hearing. This causes problems at night when scary sounds prevent her from falling asleep.

“I learned a lot of things,” she said after the event, “some coping strategies that we hadn’t tried or heard of.”

Sullivan had the audience attempt a coping method known as mindfulness. Becoming in tune with your surroundings. This can mean closing your eyes and feeling your breathing pattern or finding things to see, touch or smell around the room.

According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada, such disorders affect about 12 per cent of Canadians.

The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that anxiety disorders are common in children and youth. About six per cent of kids experience an anxiety disorder at some point.

“Anxiety is normal,” Sullivan says, “it’s our body’s alarm system.”

Sullivan says other methods to help cope with anxiety are regular exercise and a healthy diet.

Parents can act as coaches for their children, she says maintaining a routine and getting children who have an anxiety disorder involved in an activity can help.

Sullivan says you can relate to children using things they like, such as Pokémon games and trading cards.

But you can also help anxiety sufferers by talking about everyone’s favorite zombie killer.

“If someone is interested in The Walking Dead it could be, ‘What would Rick Grimes do in this situation?’,” says Sullivan.

Nova Scotians suffering from an anxiety disorder or other mental illnesses can contact the IWK Health Centre at 902 464-4110.