With the rapid increase of child and adolescent cases of anxiety, parents are scrambling trying to help their children from falling deeper. Some of the most widely used methods of coping with anxiety are cognitive behavioral therapy and art therapy as well as common medications. Although there is evidence that both approaches work, only half of the children respond to these treatments. What happens to the other half?
This question led researchers to look for other methods to help children combat anxiety. A team at Yale has found an interesting solution: help parents change their strategies. The SPACE (Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions) program, which was a result of a study at Yale University, is suggesting that parents should focus more on helping and teaching their children how to manage their anxieties. Moving away from more authoritarian parenting styles from the past, many caregivers today try to eliminate their children’s anxiety completely, which might be doing them harm. For example, if the child suffers from separation anxiety the parents sleep with the child, or if the child has social anxiety and no social activities will be planned. By avoiding situations that produce stress, the cycle of anxiety is not broken but instead reinforced. Children need to be guided and shown how to manage and function, as best as they can, in anxiety-provoking situations. This provides a long-term solution, in which the nervousness will eventually decrease. On the other hand, taking the child away from any anxiety-provoking situation will only help temporarily. In the long run, the child will not learn how to properly approach an anxious situation.
Now, helping an anxious child isn’t easy. Of course, parents only want the best for them but sometimes it can be frustrating. To help children develop skills to better approach their fears and anxieties, you can try the following tips:
- It is important to have a balance between respecting and validating children’s feelings but not validating their anxiety-provoking thoughts. For example, it’s important to affirm that having to present a project in front of the whole class is anxiety provoking but thinking that everyone is going to make fun of the presentation is not valid.
- Children have many fears, but with the patient and loving guidance of their parents, they can understand that an obstacle can be overcome. Talk about your daily obstacles and how you managed them or are trying to manage them, to model perseverance.
- Making statements like they won’t fail a test, or their friends won’t laugh at their show-and-tell, are powerful statements that the child might depend on, and if they don’t end up being true, will induce anxiety. Instead, parents can tell the child that they will be ok, and that things can be worked out and managed, showing room for improvement.
- Parents can sit down with the children and help them formulate a plan for scary situations. Coming up with a course of action, can serve as a soothing activity that also teaches them strategies to handle their anxieties.
There are a lot of things to consider when trying to help your child, but parents should not forget to help themselves as well. Learning how to deal and manage our stress in a healthy way as parents, will serve as a guideline for our children.
Our therapists at Montreal Art Therapy Centre are trained in providing parenting skills to help understand anxiety in children. Call us for more information at 514-999-3414
By: Mihaela Zlatanovska
Edit by: Reyhane Namdari