Having a child who is experiencing anxiety, can be heartbreaking. As parents our first instinct is to step in and try to remove the source of their anxiety by trying to “fix” things for them. However in a number of situations, this kind of response from parents can often make the situation worse, not better.
After a proper assessment that rules out other scenarios that could be causing the anxiety, children can be greatly helped by a special kind of supportive parenting. Being supportive as parents can mean that at times we have to unlearn our usual way of reacting to our child’s anxiety.
As counsellors, we often treat children’s anxiety by helping parents learn a new way to respond to it. Children are constantly taking in and internalizing the way we respond to them as parents and making them a part of their own beliefs.
Counselling can help us parents learn techniques to support and comfort our children whilst making sure they do not become dependent on us to “make it better” instead of learning how to cope with it on their own.
The problem with stepping in to fix things is that often as parents we unconsciously give children the message that, “You aren’t capable to handle this” or “This situation is too scary or difficult so I’m going to do it for you”. The key is that parents learn how to allow children to manage their own situation whilst at the same time supporting them. This response can greatly help children to start believing in their own capabilities and to reshape and boost their self esteem. It is also key in helping children to identify way of coping with anxiety that are just right for them and not prescribed by others.
In my experience I believe that as parents we play more of a role in the success of the treatment of children’s anxiety.
A study that appeared in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry examined Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions as a parent-based treatment that reduces accommodation of childhood anxiety. This study found that accommodation to childhood anxiety and parenting stress were significantly reduced and concluded that Supportive Parenting is an acceptable and efficacious treatment for childhood anxiety disorders, is non-inferior to CBT, and provides an alternative strategy for treating anxiety in children (Lebowitz et.al, 2019). Lebowitz ER, Marin C, Martino A, Shimshoni Y & Silverman WK (2019) Parent-Based Treatment as Efficacious as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Childhood Anxiety: A Randomized Non-inferiority Study of Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions. Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry retrieved: 02/05/2019 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30851397