We can learn ways to prevent anxiety disorders in children. One in 5 children with anxiety disorders are not diagnosed. Untreated anxiety can lead to substance abuse, difficulties in school, and depression and continue well into adulthood.
In 2015, at Johns Hopkins University, researcher, Golda Ginsburg, conducted a study on 40 children between 7 and 12 who were not diagnosed with anxiety themselves but who had one or both parents diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Half of the children and their families were enrolled in an eight-week cognitive behavioral therapy, while the other half were put on a waiting list and received no therapy at the time of the study, but were offered therapy a year later.
The program, consisting of hour-long weekly sessions, was designed to help parents identify and change behaviors believed to contribute to anxiety in the children, while at the same time teaching children coping and problem-solving skills.
Within a year, 30 percent of the children in the no-intervention group had developed an anxiety disorder, compared to none of the children who participated in the family-based therapy. Parents along with researchers who evaluated the children and their parents independently reported a 40-percent drop in anxiety symptoms in the year following the prevention program. There was no reduction of anxiety symptoms among children on the waiting list.
This study has shown that parents and health professionals can learn ways to manage their own anxiety and help their children too.
Here are 7 ways that we can help children manage and prevent anxiety:
1. Language is important:
Parents can check how many times they are saying “Be careful” to their children.
Instead, we can say “Think a few steps ahead” or “use your head and have fun!”
2. Providing Unconditional Love
Parents must let their children know that first and foremost they are loved without reservation — regardless of their school performance or other achievements or lack thereof. It is even more important for parents and other adults to let children know that they are loved and liked regardless of their behavior. Adults can discipline a child and work to improve their misbehavior while still sending the message of unconditional love:
• “I like you, but I don’t like the way you are talking to me right now.”
• “I love you, but I don’t like this behavior you are showing me.”
3. Point our your child’s positive behaviors or strengths
• “You acted safely. You held my hand in the street.”
• “You listened. I asked you to take out a book and you did.”
• “I appreciated your help today. The laundry needed to get done and you did it.”
4. Sharing the positive in your daily events
• “I had such a great time with you today. Teaching you to ride a bicycle with training wheels was so much fun!”
• “I know school can be tough sometimes, but I hope you can see how much you are learning and how much you enjoy reading new stories, and gym class.”
5. Talk about the things you enjoy
• “I love taking nature walks with you. You pointed out all these interesting leaves and flowers!”
• “I am reading such a good book. It is hard for me to put it down. There is nothing like a good book to relax you!”
6. Express your positive feelings
• “I love giving you kisses and hugs at bedtime.”
• “I am so happy! I just finished all my cooking for the holidays. I feel very accomplished!”
• “I am delighted with all the work we accomplished in therapy today.”
7. Ask children to find the positives
• “What was the best thing about school today?” “Can you tell me one good thing that happened to you today?”
Edwards, A. (2013). Why Smart Kids Worry: And What Parents Can Do To Help. IL: Sourcebooks Inc.
Ginsburg, G., Drake, K.L., Tein, J, Teetsel, R., Riddle, M. (2015). Preventing Onset of Anxiety Disorders in Offspring of Anxious Parents: A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Family-Based Intervention. American Journal of Psychiatry. Volume 172 Issue 12, December 01, 2015, pp. 1207-1212 http://dx.doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2015.14091178
Kordich-Hall, D., Pearson, J. (2006) RIRO Resiliency Guidebook. Child & Family Partnership. Canada: