Helping your anxious child
If you are a parent and you wish someone was supporting you while you are helping your anxious child, this post is for you.
As a parent of kids who have experienced anxiety, I know the feelings of confusion, helplessness, and overwhelm that can come when you are first presented with your child’s avoidance, irritability, or worry. While we don’t have a roadmap for parenting, we do have a roadmap for treating and responding to anxiety.
When treating anxiety for adults or children, it is recommended to intervene as soon as an issue is recognized. Untreated anxiety can lead to other issues and become an entrenched way of functioning.
A question that will often come up is, “How do I know if my child’s anxiety is normal or if it is excessive?” While it can be hard to differentiate between the two, a simple way to consider this is by looking at the impact the anxiety is having. Does it occur in various contexts? Is it interfering with relationships? Have activities been limited because of it? What does it take to accomplish routine, everyday tasks? Even after going through these questions, it can still be unclear. This is also where involving a professional is helpful.
Why is my child or teen anxious?
Anxiety in kids happens for all sorts of reasons. Even though there is a lot we know about treating anxiety, we still have many questions about why anxiety occurs to begin with. Thankfully, we don’t have to know exactly why a child is anxious in order to help them feel better.
What to Do For Your Anxious Child or Teen:
1- Validate their thoughts and feelings. Seek to understand what they are experiencing.
2- Learn what you can about anxiety. There are a number of great resources for this. You can view some of them here.
3- Enlist help from others, this could be other family members, friends, school personnel, church members, etc.
4- Counseling from someone who is trained to treat anxiety disorders
5- Medication is also an option for children.
I want to address option number 4 in more detail. A child who has anxiety that does not improve even when the parents follow steps 1-3, likely needs support from a professional who is trained in anxiety and/or OCD.
Types of Anxiety Seen in Children and Adolescents:
- anxiety in social situations
- separation anxiety
- illness anxiety
- obsessions and compulsions
- generalized anxiety
While Evercare Counseling does not provide individual therapy to children, we offer another option that is useful for helping your anxious child regardless of the type of anxiety they have.
We use a parent-directed intervention called SPACE created by Dr. Eli Lebowitz with the Yale Child Study Center. SPACE stands for supportive parenting for anxious childhood emotions. It’s an evidenced-based approach that can reduce a child’s anxiety by working directly with the child’s parents. Yes, you read that correctly. Using SPACE, a child does not have to participate in any kind of therapy to benefit from the SPACE approach. You can read the specifics about SPACE here.
How Does SPACE Help?
As the parent of anxious child or teen, you will:
1- understand their child’s anxiety cycle
2- look at the impact and involvement of the family
3- reduce anxiety-prolonging accommodations
4- increase support to the anxious child
The end result being that you the parent are engaging your child in a way that is actually helping your anxious child.
SPACE is a great compliment to a child being in individual therapy or can be a stand-alone treatment in cases where a child is unwilling or unable to participate in therapy.
Why do the parents have to participate if the child is the one who is anxious?
When considering children and adolescents with anxiety, it is almost a guarantee that the parents/caregivers or siblings are unknowingly or knowingly getting pulled into the anxiety cycle.
A child who is worried about germs might ask or remind their family members to wash their hands. The family then washes their hands more often, including times where it doesn’t seem necessary.
A teen who is afraid of getting sick at school will have their parents prepare certain “safe” foods for breakfast and run through a time-consuming morning ritual that the parent has to endure because otherwise the teen would be too upset.
An adolescent who doesn’t like to be alone will follow the parent around the house and have the parent let them know when they are going to another part of the house.
A child who is anxious in social situations and the parent does all the talking for them or decides not to participate in the social activity.
One of the limitations related to a child being in individual therapy for anxiety is that the parents are often not included. If they are included it’s usually not to the extent that the parents feel equipped to support their anxious child at home. SPACE can give parents the information and tools to become confident and effective in helping their anxious child at home.
To get started with SPACE, follow these steps:
1- Contact us to set up a free 15 minute phone consultation
2- Meet with Lindsey Pace, LCSW
3- Begin learning new strategies to help your anxious child or teen at home
Other Therapy Services Offered at Evercare Counseling
Evercare Counseling offers a range of mental health services to help provide you with more support. These services include anxiety therapy, ERP therapy, OCD treatment, therapy for women, and Christian counseling. Online therapy is provided throughout Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida. We also see clients in person at our office in Clemmons, North Carolina. For more about us check out our FAQs and blog!