Ok, maybe “fun” is an overstatement. After all, I can’t complete with their phone or video games. However, the treatment I’m currently doing with kids, tweens, and teens is much more fun than most anxiety treatments out there, and it’s effective too!
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety in Kids
At Healthy Mind Sacramento, my cornerstone of treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy, otherwise known as CBT. The basic idea is that our thoughts affect our emotions and our behaviors. If we can change either our behavior or our thoughts, we can feel better!
Kids with anxiety have usually developed some thoughts that are anxiety-perpetuating, but not necessarily reality-based. (Example: “Something bad will happen in the dark”). The key to treatment is challenging those thoughts in a gentle-but-effective way and learning to replace them with healthier thoughts!
Here’s a breakdown of how cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety for kids works:
- Your child comes to Healthy Mind Sacramento for an initial assessment of the anxiety issue.
- The first sessions involve learning some coping skills, such as relaxation and breathing techniques. These are pretty easy and can be fun to do together. Some kids like to use an app for breathing and relaxation.
- We learn in session about how our thoughts affect our feelings. Your child tries tracking thoughts at home during the week.
- Your child learns other skills to cope: coping cards; creating a coping character who is strong and resilient!
- Next, we start to tackle the scary situations by creating a “fear ladder.” At the bottom of the ladder are situations that don’t cause much anxiety. At the top of the ladder is the most anxiety-producing situation of all.
- We move up the ladder slowly, practicing easy to more difficult situations. “Hey, I can do this!” is gradually learned!
Do the steps sound pretty straightforward? They are. They are also proven by research to work. Therapy for kids with anxiety at Healthy Mind Sacramento is highly effective, and usually takes about 4-6 months of weekly sessions. It does require patience and homework outside of sessions (worksheets to fill out, exposures at home).
Is my child’s anxiety issue serious enough to require treatment?
This is a question I get all the time, so I want to provide some guidelines to help you figure out what is age-appropriate anxiety and what is not. Here are some signs that your child may need some intervention:
- Other kids have grown out of the particular fear, but your child has not (e.g. fear of the dark/night)
- The anxiety is interfering with your child’s life (e.g. not wanting to go to school or socialize with others)
- You have modified your behavior because of your child’s anxiety (e.g. you are now leaving work early daily to rush home to be with your child; you avoid taking your child to certain places that cause him/her fear but that most people go to)
- If teachers have mentioned your child’s anxiety, it is likely significant
Won’t it just go away over time? will s/he grow out of it?
It depends. If you child is already in a pattern of avoidance of certain places or activities, that reinforces the anxiety. As long as avoidance has already started, “growing out” of the anxiety is unlikely to happen.
What about medications for my child?
Anxiety is one of the most easily treatable psychological conditions, as long as evidence-based treatments such as CBT are used. Healthy Mind Sacramento uses CBT to treat anxiety in kids in a very effective way. Many parents prefer to try this behavioral treatment for their child before considering medication, particularly since behavioral treatment is so effective in many cases.
If you live farther away, consider videoconference sessions (similar to Skype). It is just as effective, and many kids find it fun to have their doctor talk to them via computer or ipad.