Working with Parents to Stop Childhood Anxiety
As marriage and family therapists we believe that our children don’t grow up in a vacuum and are not lone bearers of problems. We are a system that interacts with one another, ricocheting from one person to the next. So I was excited to learn about Eli Lebowitz’s research on childhood anxiety.
Lebowitz, a psychologist at Yale School of Medicine, thought instead of using cognitive behavioral therapy to treat anxiety in children maybe we can retrain the parents. To which all MFT’s in the world give a resounding nod of approval.
Today, many parents are trying to raise empathic, kind, and well rounded children. We feel so much pressure to nurture emotional intelligence we swoop in at any sign of discomfort. We don’t ask them to try on their own. We are quick to accommodate.
To be clear we are not saying throw your child in the pool and see if they can swim. We are encouraging you to do something that is very hard for parents to do, say no to the small fears. We are saying nurture their resilience. Let them know they can challenge themselves and feel good.
To be there for our children, we first need to explore ourselves. What role are we playing? Are we providing enough empathy? Are we providing enough challenges? What is the right balance for our child? And most importantly what is the right balance for us? Our children have an instinct to check in with their parents when they are scared. They check in to see if things are really safe. If we look scared, guess what’s next…
I know parenting is exhausting, emotional, evocative, etc... That is why the best gift we can give to our children is knowing ourselves. Therapy is a big part of that. It helps shield our children from our childhood pain and fears. It can help us stand stoically, while we are terrified they might fall of that bike.
Children don’t break as easily as us adults do. They are amazing and inspiring beings. Our little ones tackle challenge after challenge. They just want to know they won’t die. So don’t stop that pain for them, life is filled with it. Do stand lovingly with your child as they journey through that pain towards resilience.