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David Baxter PhD

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Children 'worrying too much'
September 12, 2006
By Jessica Marszalek, The Courier-Mail

As many as one in five children suffer anxiety disorders but their parents are unaware, a psychologist says.

Children as young as five worried about their parents dying, getting hurt themselves and seeming stupid at school.

They even worried about worrying too much.

Queensland University of Technology psychologist and education researcher Dr Marilyn Campbell said adults often underestimated how strongly children felt scared and worried.

Dr Campbell has worked as a specialist counsellor with anxious children for 15 years and has written a series of books to help children deal with their fears.

She said all children had normal fears, such as monsters under the bed, but studies had shown between 10 and 17 per cent of primary school children were worrying to the point that it was seriously impacting on their lives.

And teachers and parents were often unaware because they did not recognise the signs.

Dr Campbell said shyness was often believed to be the only symptom of anxiety and other signs, such as tantrums or refusal to go to school, were dismissed as naughty behaviour.

"But manipulation to get out of what you're afraid of is a strategy that most anxious kids use," she said.

She said children knew it "wasn't cool" to be anxious, which kept them from confiding in others.

Learning disorders were often misdiagnosed among children with anxiety disorders because a fear of making mistakes at school stunted their learning, she said.

"They won't even start writing on the page because they'll ruin the page," Dr Campbell said.

She said the anxiety conditions led to other health problems such as lack of sleep, eating disorders and constant nausea.

"A lot of kids feel very sick ... and they feel as if they can't eat in front of other people because they might be sick," she said.

"And so they can't get on buses, they can't even sometimes get into a car because of it."

Dr Campbell said telling children not to worry was not helpful and parents and teachers need to work together to show children they could discuss their problems and explain why they did not need to worry.

Anxiety disorders that are ignored could produce problems in adolescence and adulthood such as substance abuse, depression, eating disorders and heightened anxiety problems, she said.
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