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To Vanquish Child Anxiety, Psychologist Treats Parents

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Read Time: 2 minutes

An NPR piece on child anxiety discussed a new twist on therapy: Instead of treating the anxious child, a psychologist coached the parents to be able to withstand the pain of not immediately responding to their son’s worried desire to have them near.

“The parent’s own responses are a core and integral part of childhood anxiety,” says Eli Lebowitz, a psychologist at the Yale School of Medicine who developed the training.

For instance, when Joseph [age 9] would get scared about sleeping alone, Jessica and her husband, Chris Calise, did what he asked and comforted him. “In my mind, I was doing the right thing,” she says. “I would say, ‘I’m right outside the door’ or ‘Come sleep in my bed.’ I’d do whatever I could to make him feel not anxious or worried.”

But this comforting—something psychologists call accommodation—can actually be counterproductive for children with anxiety disorders, Lebowitz says.

Today’s society almost demands parents hover over their kids, so kids get used to having their parents nearby. And when parents are nearby, they get used to soothing their kids. Who wouldn’t?

Breaking The Cycle

This cycle causes problems. Kids don’t (or can’t) develop coping skills, because parents soothe from the outside when they’re scared or sad. Lebowitz seems to have restored a more natural state of affairs with child anxiety. He encourages kids to muddle their way through, a bit painfully, to some sort of confidence and competence.

Let Grow’s mission is very similar. We believe in giving kids some independence so they (and their parents!) can see how capable they really are. Eager to start giving your kids some of that freedom?  Let them do something outside the home that they haven’t already done on their own. Have them run an errand, climb a tree, or visit a friend down the block or down the hall. Your options depend on the the kid and the neighborhood, of course. Ask yourself what you did on your own when you were their age.

And because change is easier when you’re not the only one trying it, ask your school to implement the Let Grow Project. It encourages every parent to let their kid try something new all on their own. Get all the info you need here.

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