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Is it getting worse in our children?

I often find it easy to come up with topics for my Sensei Says column because I just write about current challenges and problems our parents seem to share in common. My intent is to give you valuable bits of information and tips to help you as you raise your child.

Today’s topic is an interesting one because in the 15 years of running our dojo I have actually seen and sensed a clear increase of a problem – it is called ANXIETY.

We see more and more children with anxiety and it is heartbreaking. And I just don’t mean they are a little nervous or anxious at times. No, I am talking about having such intense and constant anxiety it is debilitating. They can barely get out of the house and are constantly freaking out about the smallest things. Many end up having to resort to medication.

First I want to speak to what I observe and some patterns to watch for.

Here is one pattern. It sometimes begins with an innocent and often unnoticed seed and progresses into a deepening downward spiral.

First, let me back up and say “anxiety” is characterized by a feeling of worry or fear that are strong enough to interfere with one’s daily activities. Anxiety are not your big fears like a fire or sharks. They are something much more sinister and destructive. They are your small fears. These small little fears happening multiple times a day are what crushes people. Most do not perceive these are fears because they are too small. So I like to say anytime you hesitate, over think something, or second guess yourself it is really a fear. But these small fears are every bit as dangerous as a big fear.

With this I can now address the pattern. Often it starts with some experience or event that scares someone. Like a death of a relative or pet. Or maybe a fear of snakes or flying. Or maybe a car accident or illness. This causes a nature self-defense mechanism to go into effect to protect you – fear. Fear causes either the “Fight or Flight” reaction. For most modern fears, more than likely it will be to flee, avoid, and back away from.

This reaction can be good except for one thing, our brains see all fears as the same! When you become scared by one fear you tend to become more sensitive to all your fears. So this can be one way the downward spiral begins. You get scared and you back away. Then your actions are validated by you and others. You tell yourself “See I was right, that was scary and dangerous.” You are also validated by others. For example a mother saying “Oh Billy, that was so scary, I am glad I pulled you away from that before it got you got hurt, my poor baby.” Then as all your fears get bigger and your reaction stronger you spiral downward until every little thing scares you. I am sure you have seen people that are so scared and anxious about so many things, even with help, they cannot reverse it.

What are the things that contribute to anxiety and are they worse today? I believe that are three:

  1. Pressure and expectations: This is a very different world. Life is tougher and harder on kid’s today. School, sports, from parents, from peers. What can you do? Just watch for this and back off (in a balanced way) for as long as you can. When they are young, just let them be kids. Learn how to develop a “growth” instead of fixed mindset in your child and family by learning to reward effort, choices and the process over performance and results. What ruins sports for most kids? The ride home.

  2. Overprotective parents: All parents mean well but most do not realize protecting their kids from too much actually does the opposite. When a child always has an adult saving them from fears and protecting them then validating their feelings they lose both confidence and courage. They become fearful and weak children. You know my favorite saying “When I back away from a fear the fear gets bigger, but when I power through a fear I get bigger!” This is how the downward spiral progresses, fear builds every single time you let a child back off. Try not protect a child from a fear that is not actually dangerous. Never let them back away from a fear!

  3. A paranoid world: One thing I often do when talking with a parent about their anxious child is “Does anyone else in the family struggle with anxiety?” You can probably guess the answer. It is not your fault. We are developing an overly paranoid world. Just watch the news (actually turn it off!). The world is scared of everything. We are scared of our kids being abducted right in our neighborhoods. Scared of them being taken into human trafficking. Scared of that storm of the century that happens every other week. Scared of North Korea bombing us. Scared of school shootings. Scared of having guns. Scared of not having guns. Is there any wonder why we are an increasingly “scared” and paranoid society? When was the last time you let your child play in the neighborhood with other kids without direct adult supervision? When was the last time you let your child play at someone’s house without being there? How do you counter this? First become more aware of how scared we are and how unjustified it is. Then “de-scare” yourself first so you can de-scare your child!

I hope this gives you some thoughts going forward about helping your child develop confidence and resiliency.

For Courageous and Disciplined Children,


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