Residents of Northbrook and surrounding communities came together to learn more about how to handle anxiety exhibited in school-age children on Monday, Feb. 29.
Dr. Danielle Black, director of child and adolescent and family services for The Family Institute offered tips and feedback during “Straight As and Stressed: Navigating Childhood Anxiety,” a program held at Westmoor School in Northbrook.
Dr. Chris Finch, principal for Westmoor School, said he was excited to have parents in attendance for the program.
“It’s something that if you have little kids, you might not think a lot about it,” he said. “It’s something that we see continually become more and more prevalent here at school.”
Black said offering the information session was important for parents with children living along the north shore. She said in her own practice and in working with community youth, she has noted a few common threads.
“On the north shore especially in places like Wilmette, Winnetka and Northrook, there are high incidences of kids with stress and anxiety,” she said. “I think the reason why that is true is because they exist in a very successful, high achievement area. They look around them they see their parents are successful. They see their friends’ parents are successful. They see everyone around them is successful.”
Black said the nature of the environment is conducive for anxiety, adding that even if parents have the best of intentions to send the positive messages, children may still see that a bar for success is set and it keeps rising.
“I think what’s more important is that (a Duke University study on anxiety) even predicts worse outcomes later on,” she said. “Remember the old message from back in the day about how marijuana was the gateway drug? Anxiety is like the gateway disorder to other more long lasting problems. The kids that were anxious when they were in grade school and when they were teenagers, in adulthood they ended up having more rates of depression and substance abuse.”
Black said this isn’t true of every kid, but research shows that it does pose room for concern down the road.
“I don’t want to give the message that anxiety in it of itself is bad,” she said. “That might sound confusing because I just told that they’re going down the path of depression, so ‘watch out.’ What I’m saying is it needs to be at a certain level.”
On one hand, there are kids struggling with a lot of anxiety and at other end of the spectrum, children may have anxiety that is too low. Knowing this may serve as a sign that there is a lack of motivation needing to be addressed, Black said.
She said the trick to that is finding out what motivates them and using it to motivate them in other ways.
Akiko Pace, of Northbrook, was one of many parents there looking to learn more about how to parent children with anxiety. She said it was interesting being there with her husband and having the steps for addressing these types of issues laid out for them.
“For me, I never thought anxiety was a positive thing,” she said, noting how she learned there is a distinction between healthy and unhealthy anxiety.
Pace has four kids and one of them is in the fifth grade this year, participating in the gifted and talented program.
Vincent Pace, of Northbrook, was also there for the program with his wife, Akiko. He said they noted how their daughter was becoming more emotional and by the evening’s end, he took away a number of tips for how to help her in handling anxiety.
“This is a skill that can be taught,” he said. “It’s not like you’re stuck with whatever anxiety you have.”
Nives Horacek, of Glenview, was in attendance for the program looking for added information on how to address childhood anxiety. She said a friend of hers told her about it, so she decided to drop in.
“It’s about helping kids manage and direct it as a positive, so I am curious about it,” she said. “I find it challenging raising kids in the modern-day world.”
Horacek said the hope is that she can gain useful tips, so she can better understand how she can help her children, who are now in kindergarten and third grade, as they grow older and face more pressures.