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Childhood anxiety can be cured by treating parents, says study
Mar 27 2019

Childhood anxiety can be cured by treating parents, says study

Mental Health

It is hypothesized that one in three children will experience clinically significant anxiety disorder before turning into adults and if left treated, they may turn into anxious adults. Recently, the researchers from the Yale University have developed a novel way to combat childhood anxiety – to treat the parents. According to the randomized trial published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, this new program of counseling the parents is as effective as providing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat common anxiety disorders in children.

Lead author Eli Lebowitz stated that presently, there are two evidence-based treatments for the management of anxiety – CBT and medication – and even then, only 50 percent children respond to these therapies. Therefore, there is a growing need to develop alternate therapies to help children suffering from anxiety disorders. One such alternate therapy is Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions (SPACE), a new program developed at the Yale University that teaches the parents, instead of the children, how to handle the issues that arise when dealing with anxious children.

Parents of anxious children accommodating

It is observed that the parents of anxious children are accommodating and ensure that the child does not have to move out of their comfort zones. For example, if a child is struggling with social anxiety, then the parents may refrain from calling any of their friends over to the house. Similarly, if a child is grappling with separation anxiety, parents might never leave the home or may even sleep with the child. Parents put in constant efforts to reassure their child displaying symptoms of anxiety disorder. While these responses might be natural, studies have shown that these fail to teach the child how to manage their symptoms of anxiety leaving them grappling with debilitating anxiety into adulthood.

For the study, the researchers enrolled 124 children, aged between 7 and 14 years, and their parents. Of these, 60 were assigned to receive CBT and the parents of the other 64 were assigned to receive counseling sessions for 12 weeks under SPACE to help them better handle their anxious children. For example, parents assigned to the SPACE program reduced the number of messages send to their kids from a dozen to two or three per day. Also, parents who repeatedly kept their children out of school because of their anxiety-related stomachaches told their children that they knew that he or she was upset but they would be all right after a while and hence, sent their children to school.

Both approaches were found to be efficacious

The researchers discovered that both the approaches were effective in alleviating anxiety symptoms in children and stress levels in parents. However, in parents, who received SPACE counseling, there was a significant reduction in the accommodating behavior.

Lebowitz shared that now since the efficacy of the program had been established, he hoped to train therapists in offering this program. He also urged the parents to not ignore this program primarily because anxiety is a serious mental health disorder, which if left untreated, can damage children, disrupt family life, and can also lead to suicide.

Seeking help for anxiety

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in the United States, affecting as many as 40 million adults. Persistent anxiety can cause both physical, as well as, psychological symptoms, therefore, it is important to seek professional intervention for symptom alleviation. Untreated anxiety can lead to a very poor quality of life. Additionally, children and adolescents suffering from anxiety are twice as likely to indulge in substance abuse. In the case of children and adolescents, it becomes even more important to seek anxiety help from an anxiety treatment center specially catering to this age group.

Consequently, if you suspect your or a loved one’s child to be struggling with an anxiety disorder or any other mental health disorder, do not hesitate to contact the ADEONA Healthcare for professional assistance. We offer comprehensive evidence-based anxiety treatment programs, tailored to suit adolescents and teens aged 12-17. Call our 24/7 anxiety treatment helpline (877) 636-0042 or chat online with our experts to get in touch with the finest inpatient anxiety treatment clinics for teens.