'It's exhausting': parents, professionals grapple with child anxiety

Parents, students and professionals were looking to learn more about childhood anxiety at the University of Regina on Sunday.

Child psychologist gives workshop in Regina, talks about addiction to technology, improving relationships

A decrease in the quality of parent-child relationships, screen time and lack of play are some of the forces leading to an increase in child anxiety, according to child psychologist Tammy Schamuhn. (Shutterstock)

PJ Adkins has six children, and she knows about anxiety.   

"My 12-year-old son, if he gets worried at school or stressed out, he just walks home without his shoes on," she said.

Adkins said her son would rather be alone in his room than in a school environment. Her teenage daughter also worries about dying, and complains about all kinds of aches and pains, thinking she is developing multiple sclerosis or that her appendix may burst.

"And it's exhausting," she said.

One in eight children struggle with anxiety

Adkins was among the parents, students and professionals looking to learn more about childhood anxiety at the University of Regina on Sunday.

One in eight children can be diagnosed with childhood anxiety, said Tammy Schamuhn, a child psychologist at Edmonton's Institute of Child Psychology, a rate she said has increased 50 per cent in the last 30 years.

"Our genetics haven't changed, so it has to be the environment," she said. "Something is changing in the environment that's causing this."

Tammy Schamuhn, child psychologist, delivered a workshop at the University of Regina on Sunday, speaking to parents, caregivers and professionals about childhood anxiety. (CBC News)

Time to get bored

Children are growing up addicted to technology, with not enough unstructured play time or time to explore, and parents are often busy, rushing from one activity to the next, she said.

"They're so busy trying to give their kids the cutting edge, that they forget that the cutting edge is often just time at home with them, one-on-one with their families."

Her presentations are meant to give people affordable access to improving children's mental health, with parents needing to model smart behaviours to their own children, she said.

An instant response to boredom may be to give kids access to technology, but child psychologist Tammy Schamuhn says it's healthy for kids to find their own ways to relieve boredom. (The Associated Press/Gerald Herbert)

Parents themselves are addicted to their phones and technology, which tends to be the problem in moving the dial on improving their relationships with their kids, she said.

"I think that's the biggest roadblock to parents doing this."

After Sunday's presentation, Adkins hoped to go home armed with tools to support her children, whether it was introducing new ways to let them play and express themselves, or spending one-on-one time with each of them.

"It's going to be huge for me."