New Approach For Treating Anxiety In Children Focuses On Parents’ Behaviors

A treatment for anxiety in children focuses on the parents' responses to the anxietyIf you’re the mother of an anxious child and have wondered how you could gently guide your little one through anxiety and strategies, a new study from Yale University suggests the key to helping your child’s anxiety may be within you.

When we see anxiety rear its head in our children, it hurts our hearts. We don’t want them to worry needlessly but we also want to honor their concerns with helpful strategies and hearts that hear them. We often want to fix it for them, but the reality is that we just can’t ‘fix’ their anxiety.

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But a new study from Yale University suggests that we can work at helping them through their anxiety by responding in specific ways ourselves.

Eli Lebowitz is a psychologist with the Yale School of Medicine, and the developer of a training program for parents that helps them respond to their child’s anxiety in a way that effectively helps treat the anxiety in their child.

Yes, instead of focusing on the trait and behaviors in your anxious child, Lebowitz says the way you respond to your child is the big difference in successful anxiety treatment. Lebowitz’s program, Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions (SPACE) is a parent-based treatment regimen that encourages parents to reduce their accomodation of their child’s anxiety because our ‘comforting’ may actually be counterproductive. We may be making our child’s anxiety worse instead of helping it.

Lebowitz’s program helps parents focus on their responses to their child’s anxiety so that we can lessen the additional anxiety we may be creating as well as fostering environments in which our children learn (within safe boundaries) how to cope with life’s anxieties.

Lebowitz tells parents that providing a lot of ‘accommodation’ inadvertently tells children that they’re not capable of handling the anxiety-inducing situation, regardless of the good intent behind it. The SPACE program teaches children how to step back and watch their child manage the anxiety, with parental support every step of the way.

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The logic behind the SPACE program differs greatly from that of cognitive behavioral therapy which is often most used when treating anxiety. It looks to identify and change negative patterns that create anxiety, as well as teaches new and positive changes for the child suffering from anxiety.

Outcomes for those who’ve gone through the SPACE program show themselves to be positive and the approach was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry in March.

Photo: Aaron Amat/Shutterstock


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