Meet Generation W "w" for wired and worried. Every day in my office kids come in worried. Now the easy response is, "Who wouldn't be worried in the presence of the shot doctor?" Others will blurt, "It's a phase" or something along that line.
No, these are children who are petrified to sleep or be alone, scared of going off to school, frightened to leave the house, intimidated by the wind or all other sorts of everyday situations that have become stresses. The problem is that the fears may go away but not the fear.
In today's childhood there is not only an overabundance of stimulation, there is a shortage of soothers. The net result is the big W. In generations past, the human creature had places of solace. They could down-regulate their brains. In an agrarian society, children would be sent to the lower 40 to herd the sheep or gather the cows. There were places without man-made sounds. Now the noise from an iPod drowns out the sounds of the grass growing. I know because I don't rough it. Maybe that is why I'm uptight, bite my nails and can't be without my wireless Internet.
In his book, "Last Child in the Woods," Robert Louv writes, "Given a chance, a child will bring confusion of the world to the woods, wash it in the creek, turn it over to see what lives on the unseen side of that confusion." He further describes the condition of "nature deficit." Perhaps as a physician I should prescribe fewer pills and hand out more pine cones, or give doctor's orders for hiking.
There is little rest from this excessive stimulation. On vacations, children have their portable devices or the van is packaged with the latest DVD screens. Don't watch the scenery or see the sites or you will miss the 10th playing of the show du jour. In a recent family trip to the mountains, we were without tents but not our Nintendos.
In this whirlwind of wires and wireless, there are four steps to wind down the worried.
First, decrease the chaos and increase the calm. Turn off the TV, pull the plug on video games and hide the batteries of whatever makes noise or flashes. Do less in more time. Get up for breakfast and sit down for dinner. Go for walks. Look at the stars. Go into the woods. Don't let your child be the last one.
Second: Watch for the signals of distress in you and your children. The ability to pick up on the sometimes subtle signals increases with practice. Name the emotion. Look at your children's hands. If they bite their nails, crack their knuckles, pick their skin, bounce their legs or tap their fingers, they are expressing their excessive mental energy. They and you may be stressing. Look for the agitation.
Third: Provide security. Once you see your child is excessively energized, help them calm down. Talk softly. Stop what you are doing and pay attention. Touch them. Sit near them. Provide comfort. Listen. Do the same for yourself.
Fourth: Teach a skill. For a child and anyone else the lesson is this: When you feel this way there are things you can do. Talk, go play, sing, reconstruct and correct distorted thinking. Serve someone, seek spiritual havens, take deep breaths, eat right. Go exercise.Being worried and wound up all the time extracts a huge burden on the human body. The whole system is affected. We just sometimes miss the signs because we are "amusing ourselves to death." Maybe if we did it right this could be the Generation W for "woods." And when they turn over the confusion in the creek, they discover "wow." Or even "wonder."
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for more than 25 years and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at [email protected].