The experience of anxiety is normal and affects all of us from a very early age. Anxiety is a useful emotion and is meant to keep us safe. It keeps us from taking unnecessary risks and putting ourselves in danger. However, for some people, their anxiety levels are way above normal. They may worry constantly, or they can’t seem to relax and feel safe.
At the neurobiological level, anxiety is not the same as fear. When fear happens, our brain jumps into fight or flight mode, kicking up our adrenaline and sending the body into a high-energy state that is ready to survive the stress of the situation. Fear allows us to deal with a threat (real or imagined) that is occurring in the moment.
Anxiety is different. Anxiety is the anticipation of a threat or loss. For example, worries concerning separation from our loved ones, or worries about illness or death when we are not in danger. An anxious person can develop a habit of focusing on all sorts of bad things that are not happening but could happen.
Anxiety in children
Anxiety is one of the most common disorders in children. From 4% to 20% of children suffer from anxiety disorders. Children can develop specific phobias, generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and separation anxiety disorder.
Some children have a difficult time controlling anxiety. As parents, we want to help our children. We comfort them and reassure them. But it is difficult to convince a child not to be anxious, and sometimes the child’s anxiety seems to only get worse.
In fact, we know that very anxious children do not always “grow out of it”. Early detection and treatment are important as if left untreated, anxiety continues can continue into adulthood and lead to other mental health issues. If we have an anxious child, it is important to find an appropriate treatment for them so that they can live well-balanced, happy lives.
A new treatment approach focuses on parents
Researchers have developed a new approach to treating child anxiety, known as Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions (SPACE). This approach focuses on treating the parents in order to teach the parent to reduce their accommodation of the child’s anxiety.
The basis of the program is that accommodating the child’s anxiety too much becomes counterproductive. Attempting to comfort the child whenever anxiety arises can lead to a situation where the child is not learning and practicing the skills they need to cope with anxiety. It also sends the child the message “you can’t handle this, so I’m going to help you.”
The key to this new approach is to offer support and encouragement to the child while allowing them to handle the anxiety on their own. This will help them build confidence.
How to support your child in a more productive way
A study that tested the results of the new SPACE approach found improvement in both child anxiety levels and parental stress. The research found the results were similar to the traditional approach of treating child anxiety using cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).
In fact, using both approaches of parent training and CBT for the child is likely to be extremely beneficial for the child and parents.
If your child is struggling with anxiety, early treatment with a qualified therapist is important to help them develop the coping skills they need to get past anxiety and lead balanced lives. Aside from helping your child, this will help to remove stress from the entire family.