A new treatment for anxiety is looking to help both kids, and their parents face their fears together. A program in association with a Yale University study wants to help treat children’s anxiety issues by teaching their parents how to respond to it.
According to NPR, Eli Lebowitz, a psychologist at the Yale School of Medicine who developed the training, believes that a parent’s own responses are a core and integral part of childhood anxiety. If a parent learns who to correctly respond to an issue, this might help solve problems before making them even bigger. Lebowitz wants to help train parents to change their messages and to help encourage their children to face their anxieties, rather than to run away from them.
Right now the only established treatment for children with anxiety is through cognitive behavioral therapy. However, the study’s researchers found that this form of therapy didn’t make much of a difference in their child’s recovery. Instead of asking a child to change their behavior, Lebowitz feels as though it would be more effective for a parent to learn how to change their approach instead.
First and foremost, he says parents should learn what is triggering their children to feel anxious. "These accommodations lead to worse anxiety in their child, rather than less anxiety," Lebowitz says. "When you provide a lot of accommodation, the unspoken message is, 'You can't do this, so I'm going to help you.'"
Luckily, there are several different strategies that can help children with anxiety. The first thing that parents can do is practice relaxation skills such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. There are also relaxation kits. Parents can fill a kit with relaxing activities that can help calm their child such as a favorite toy, coloring books, fidget toys, clay, books and more.
For older children, mental health professionals suggest starting a journal. They can either try the write and tear method, where a child writes or draws their worries on a piece of paper before tearing it up. That or kids can keep a worry journal. This can help psychologists get a deeper look into a child’s anxious thoughts. After writing about their worries, they can write one positive thought to help break their cycle of negative thinking.
There’s also “thought stopping.” If a child is feeling overwhelmed with intrusive thoughts, mental health professionals suggest that parents can help their children with different techniques to help interrupt their anxious thought cycle.