According to the National Institutes of Health, the numbers of kids and adolescents struggling with anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions have been steadily on the rise.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches the child coping skills, and medication may help. But for some kids and their families, there is little relief.
Now, researchers are studying a new method that helps parents help their children.
Bedtime for some families can become a struggle. But when the goodnight routine for Nicole Murphy’s son began to stretch for up to three hours, she knew she needed help with his separation anxiety.
“His little mind was always racing nonstop. So, it was kind of hard for him to shut that off, I think,” Murphy said.
Dr. Eli Lebowitz, a psychologist with Yale School of Medicine Child Study Center, and his colleagues, developed a method of training parents to support anxious children. It’s called SPACE, or supportive parenting for anxious childhood emotions.
Parents go through training to help their child face anxiety. Lebowitz said the first step is to show support and not downplay what their child is feeling.
“I get it. This is really hard, but I know you can handle it,” said Lebowitz.
Lebowitz said parents also learn to help their child by not accommodating them. For example, a parent who would limit visitors for a child who gets anxious around strangers or speaks for a child who gets nervous speaking, learns not to take those steps.
In a study of 124 kids and their parents, the Yale researchers examined whether SPACE intervention was effective in treating children’s anxiety.
“Even though the children never met directly with the therapist and all the work was done through the parents, we found that SPACE was just as effective as CBT in treating childhood anxiety disorders,” Lebowitz said.
The Murphys used the techniques learned through SPACE to coach their son through bedtime. Within a few weeks, he was falling asleep in 30 minutes.
“For us, it was like life-changing, honestly,” said Murphy.
For more information about SPACE or to find a practitioner in your state, visit spacetreatment.net.