Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

When anxiety attacks

Online program aimed at helping parents deal with children's fears and apprehensions

  • Print
Online program aimed at helping parents deal with children’s fears and apprehensions

Enlarge Image

Online program aimed at helping parents deal with children’s fears and apprehensions

Donna Hornick knew it wasn't normal for her five-year-old daughter, Breanna, to constantly scream and sob.

The little girl was anxious about so many things.

"She was really clingy. She cried at everything," recalls the library co-ordinator at the Mental Health Education Resource Centre.

She sought help from a pediatrician, teachers and friends. She didn't get far.

"I was always told... I'm spoiling her."

Hornick eventually attended a conference about kids' anxiety disorders, bought a self-help book and tried to educate herself about the problem.

Nearly two decades later, the Winnipegger is happy to hear about a new web-based program to help parents deal with their children's anxiety. She wishes it had been around when she was a struggling mother.

"That would have been amazing," she says. "It should be brought into the schools as well."

It will be, according to Dr. John Walker, the University of Manitoba professor and clinical psychologist who helped develop the Internet program.

It's aimed at parents of kids aged three to 12 and is set to roll out in late fall, says Walker, director of the anxiety disorders program at St. Boniface General Hospital.

He says there are other web-based tools designed for kids to relieve their anxiety, but this one is unique and is believed to be the first of its kind, he says.

"It focuses on helping the parent to help the child, so it comes at the problem differently," says Walker, co-author of Treating Health Anxiety and Fear of Death and Triumph over Shyness: Conquering Social Anxiety.

"We've used books over the years for parents and they are well-received. The website has its advantages in that you can do a lot more customizing -- put more information in. And parents can choose the topics and modules that fit with their situation."

Walker, a former school psychologist, says the program took him and his colleagues six to eight years to develop and parents are still testing it. Videos and other multimedia will be added in the future.

He hopes schools will alert all parents about the free program when it goes live.

Topics covered include bedtime battles, screen time, motivating your child and facing fears.

Walker hopes his web invention will help kids on waiting lists to see an anxiety-disorders specialist.

The average wait time for such Manitoba kids is one year, he says.

It's not unusual for children to have some degree of anxiety, says the psychologist, who treats children and adults. "Parents are often quite disconcerted when kids start to ask about death and dying at about five or six or seven. They don't know that's normal."

But one in 10 children suffers from so much anxiety it interferes with his or her everyday life.

"Every grade level right down to kindergarten," says Walker, noting that difficult family situations such as divorce or the death of a loved one -- combined with violence at home, violence in the media and parental influence -- also play a role.

He also believes genetics have a significant role in childhood anxiety.

"Some of the kids we see are just wired to be anxious," he says.

But just because a kid's anxiety might be genetic doesn't mean it can't be changed, he says.

"If you get help early on -- for the parents, especially -- often it helps the child function much better."

What does someone so young have to worry about?

One of Walker's young patients couldn't bear to go outside in the summer out of a fear of bugs, while others fear their parents will die.

Separation anxiety might be common in young children who cry and fuss when going to daycare. Older children who have the same fear of separation from parents often hate going to camp, sleeping over at a friend's place or even going off to school in the morning.


Walker sees social anxiety in children as young as toddlers. These kids have a fear of joining other kids at recess or playtime. Older kids with the same anxieties might have trouble making friends.

"Right from early life, there are differences in people in how sociable they are. That tends to stabilize around age four or so," he says.

Adding to social anxiety is kids' preoccupation with the Internet and computer games, he noted.

"I think that may have an impact on things like overcoming social fears. We're quite concerned about that."

Walker doesn't believe kids are more anxious now than they were 20 or 30 years ago, but these days the issue is better understood along with the impact of the problem: kids who are left with untreated anxiety are more likely to do poorly in school and grow up with lingering anxieties, even substance abuse problems, he says.

A gold-standard technique in treating anxiety is helping the child to confront fears, but it's important not to force the issue.

"If the child has fears related about learning to swim and putting their face in the water, break that down into small steps," says Walker, who also urges parents to reward the child with a special treat such as spending time together doing a favourite activity. He also notes that practising those small steps often is important in helping kids overcome fears.

What's the motivation behind Walker's quest to help kids overcome anxiety? It's his adult patients -- many of whom come in with anxieties they have suffered since childhood.

"They had suffered for so long with a problem that could have been helped much more quickly at an early age. I really wanted to put my efforts into work that could help young people get the best start in life," he says.

Walker -- along with other experts -- will speak about childhood anxiety on Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. at McNally Robinson. To reserve a seat, email Or phone 204-474-6689.


Have a story idea you'd like Shamona to write about? Contact her at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 16, 2013 D1

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Lawless in the Morning (March 30): Jets believe they belong

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Someone or thing is taking advantage of the inactivity at Kapyong Barracks,hundreds of Canada Geese-See Joe Bryksa’s goose a day for 30 days challenge- Day 15- May 22, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • An American White Pelican takes flight from the banks of the Red River in Lockport, MB. A group of pelicans is referred to as a ‘pod’ and the American White Pelican is the only pelican species to have a horn on its bill. May 16, 2012. SARAH O. SWENSON / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos


What do you think the punishment should be for Dustin Byfuglien's cross-check on New York Rangers forward J. T. Miller?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google