All parents naturally want to soothe their children and protect them from pain and suffering. However, in doing so parents may be unwittingly causing children to develop anxiety disorders.
It is important for parents to consider their role in the child’s anxiety and ask themselves if there is anything, they are doing that may be contributing to the problem.
Emerging research provides evidence to show that parenting style and parental accommodations may be a significant factor in the increasing prevalence of childhood anxiety.
When parents overaccommodate their child’s normal childhood fears, the child fails to learn skills that teach them they are up for the challenges of life.
Overaccommodations may include allowing the child to avoid anxiety provoking events, speaking up for the child in social situations, participating in elaborate rituals or routines and providing excessive amounts of reassurance beyond what might be expected for the child’s age and stage.
A recent study from Yale (Silverman et al 2019) showed that coaching parents to reduce accommodations was just as effective as 1:1 CBT with a child in reducing symptoms of anxiety.
This research shows us that parents can have a big role to play in helping their children to overcome anxiety. And they must be included in the treatment plan.
What can parents do instead?
1. Help your child to approach rather than avoid
This doesn’t mean throwing them in the deep end expecting them to swim but it does mean finding ways that they can move towards the thing that makes them anxious rather than constantly avoiding them
2. Reduce reassurance seeking
When children constantly ask questions to reduce their anxiety (e.g. is it safe to do this? Will you be there with me?) it reduces their anxiety in the moment and helps the child to feel good. However, in the longer term, these actions actually work to increase anxiety and keep it bubbling over under the surface.
Encourage your child to only ask reassuring questions once or twice, beyond this remind them that you have already answered the question and ask the child to recall your answer.
3. Teach your child tools to help them regulate and reduce their anxiety
Breathing and relations strategies, sensory toys and self-talk are all helpful tools when it comes to anxiety. Figure out what tools your child needs and help them practice them when they are not anxious so the tools is ready and waiting when they do feel anxious.
An important part of overcoming anxiety is analyzing the factors that are contributing to the maintenance of the problem. Sometimes this can be a parent that is being too caring and not wanting their child to experience any distress. If this could be you, give some of these strategies a try. But if you need more assistance, reach of for the help of a psychologist and get things on the right path for your child.
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