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."
In a society that almost demands parents hover over their kids (see our Sunday post on extracurriculars that expect or even insist on parental presence), kids get used to having their parents nearby. And when parents are nearby, they get used to soothing their kids. Who wouldn't?
Problems arise when kids who would naturally start developing some coping skills for when they're scared or sad now don't need to -- or can't -- because the soothing comes from the outside.
So Lebowitz seems to have restored a more natural state of affairs -- kids muddling their way through, a bit painfully, to some sort of confidence and competence. And that is very similar to the Let Grow idea of giving kids some independence so they (and their parents!) can see how capable they really are.
For parents eager to start giving their kids some of that elixir -- freedom -- we suggest having them do something outside the home that they haven't already done on their own. Depending on the kid, the neighborhood, and their age (remembering, perhaps, what YOU were allowed to do at their age), consider having them run an errand, climb a tree, or visit a friend down the block or down the hall. Let us know how it goes!
And because change is easier when you're not the only one trying it, we also suggest asking your school to do the Let Grow Project, where the kids' homework is to do something new on their own. Info and videos are here, along with free downloads for teachers, parents and students. #LetThem! Good luck!
Photo: Unsplash by @mero_dnt