To deal with childhood anxiety, parents have to learn to step back and allow their children to face their own fears.
Yale University is introducing a program that teaches parents new ways to respond to childhood anxiety without exacerbating the condition.
Accommodation Is Counterproductive
Eli Lebowitz, the psychologist who developed the program, said that comforting the anxious children, which is called accommodation, can sometimes be counterproductive.
"The parent's own responses are a core and integral part of childhood anxiety," he told NPR. "These accommodations lead to worse anxiety in their child, rather than less anxiety."
Lebowitz explained that comforting the anxious children is sending the message that they cannot handle their fears by themselves and that they will always need the help of their parents to get through tasks that intimidate them. Parents have to instead encourage their children to face their anxieties rather than flee from them.
Treating Childhood Anxiety
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, one of the most common and effective methods to treat childhood anxiety is through cognitive-behavioral therapy. CBT is a type of talk therapy that can teach a child techniques to reduce anxiety.
Lebowitz offers an alternative that begins with the child's support system. In a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry in March, Lebowitz and his team conducted an experiment involving 124 children who all have anxiety.
They divided the children into two groups. One group went to therapy to learn how to control their symptoms and face their fears. The second group did not see a therapist during the duration of the experiment, but their parents were told not to accommodate their children's behavior.
The researchers found that letting the children cope with their anxieties on their own is as effective as regular therapy and even better in some ways. After the study, children in both groups experienced reduced symptoms of anxiety. However, parents from the second group reported that their relationship with their children was improved.
Parents Should Remain Supportive
However, Lebowitz clarified that part of the therapy is to let the children feel heard and loved. Parents should show their children that they know and understand that their children are genuinely anxious and not just seeking attention. The next step is to assure them that they can face their anxiety and they do not need saving.