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Anxious kids lack energy
Anxious kids lack energy

WA children are becoming more stressed - part of a worldwide trend, according to a Canadian expert investigating the wellbeing of young people.

Stuart Shanker said his research uncovered a sudden rise in anxiety in children about 2003.

"We've seen some serious economic crises, we've seen a rapid growth in urbanisation, we've seen a rapid decline in extended families, we've seen a growth in broken marriages," he said. "These are all stresses."

Dr Shanker has been appointed a Thinker in Residence by WA Commissioner for Children and Young People Michelle Scott and is a world expert in child development and self-regulation, or the ability to monitor and modify emotions, focus or shift attention and control impulses.

He presented a workshop at Roseworth Primary School, Girrawheen, on Tuesday for Edith Cowan University trainee early childhood teachers, telling them children with high levels of stress did not have enough energy to pay attention and learn.

Ms Scott said she appointed Dr Shanker after submissions to a mental health inquiry last year reported increased levels of anxiety in children.

She said that in a 2009 study more than a third of WA children between the ages of 5 and 18 reported being too stressed and 40 per cent would not talk about that stress.

"We're finding kids have got more stress than ever before," Ms Scott said. "What we're looking at is how can kids learn to monitor and modify their own behaviour, their own emotions, their own actions, and we think self-regulation is part of that."

ECU professor of science and technology education Mark Hackling said societal changes meant children were becoming more stressed and had less opport- unity to do things that "recharged their batteries".

"They don't get so much opportunity for free play with other children, for exercise outside in an open environment," he said.

"A lot of kids are in apartments and they're being babysat by watching a television and that will actually drain a lot of these energy resources that are required for self-regulation."

Dr Shanker said research in Canada and the US had also uncovered a dramatic drop in sleeping hours.

"Children, a day, sleep on average two hours less a night than they did 10 years ago and this is very serious for vulnerability to stress and anxiety," he said.