I am preparing to head to the annual conference of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). I look forward to conferences like this one because they provide inspiration for the work I do and the opportunity to interact with the latest information and the great minds that are working on treatments for anxiety and depression. This year, I am fortunate to be able to present at the conference on a topic that is of great interest to me, since I work with a good number of children and teens: Engaging Parents in Children’s Anxiety Treatment. Because I think this is such an important subject, I’d like to share some of what I will share with the professionals at the conference here.
Through my practice, I’ve come to believe that parents are a very important ingredient when it comes to treating children who are struggling with anxiety disorders. Why? Well, first, it is generally parents who spend the greatest amount of time with their children and who are the “experts” on the child. As a clinician, I know that I have a great resource to tap into in the form of the parent. Who better to help me understand how this person spends their time, how they react to things, what they are sensitive to, etc.? Certainly I can often obtain a good deal of information from talking to the child or teen him or herself, but the outside perspective a parent provides is beyond valuable.
Next, working with anxiety requires a good deal of understanding on the part of the person with anxiety and their immediate support system. A big part of overcoming anxiety disorders is education. I spend a lot of time helping the people I work with to really understand how anxiety works and how to challenge it. The better educated someone is, the better they are able to make good choices for dealing with their anxiety. If a child or teen goes home to a parent who is well-educated in the ways of anxiety, that child stands a much better chance of finding success and support in defeating their anxiety.
Third, dealing with anxiety requires a lot of active work outside of session. Learning to defeat an anxiety disorder means a child or teen has to go home and practice, practice, practice. For that practice to be effective it has to be done regularly, with a good understanding of the purpose, and with a sound rationale. If I send a young person home to do practice that makes sense to no one but him or her, then the task is much more difficult. Without that support, a the chances the practice will happen decrease greatly, and treatment is going to progress much more slowly. If a parent who understands the work to be done is there to provide support and direction, then the work is much more likely to be done, and treatment is much more likely to move along.
Finally, once treatment ends, if a parent has participated in treatment, the child or teen is not alone in his or her knowledge and understanding of anxiety and its ways. Anxiety is a natural part of life and when it pops up a good plan is necessary to deal with any of the more difficult challenges it may present. When a parent has participated in treatment with a child, that child has an ally in identifying anxiety when it tries to disguise itself in the future. The parent might even recognize the signs and tricks of anxiety before the child or teen does. Parent and child can form a team to use the tools learned in treatment and put anxiety back in its place. They may even potentially prevent the need to return for treatment.
These are some of the reasons that I believe parents are an important part of the treatment team. Because of this, I try to let both parent and child know how important a player each is in the treatment process. In a future post, I will talk about some of the challenges parents face when they have a child who struggles with anxiety.