Freeing Your Child from Anxiety
Broadway Books, 2004
How do I help my Anxious Child?
Anxiety is the number one mental health problem facing young people today. Childhood should be a happy and carefree time, yet more and more children today are burdened by overwhelming fears and worries which interfere with their living a full life. Well-meaning people may say, "Oh, he'll grow out of it." But often-times without strategies to change anxious thinking patterns, children grow into their fears as they take over more and more areas of their life. Reassurance doesn't work for these children, instead they need to understand how their well-meaning "anxious brain" is giving them warnings they don't need. Instead they can cultivate new habits of summoning the facts from their "smart brain" and learn how to override the unhelpful advice from their worry. Overtime, children will become experts at spotting worry, and will automatically switch over to more realistic, adaptive thinking. Anxiety disorders are the most treatable conditions. By following the very accessible solutions in this book, parents can prevent their children from needlessly suffering today and tomorrow.
In Freeing Your Child from Anxiety, parents will learn general strategies for overcoming anxiety, in addition to separate chapters focusing on: Separation Anxiety, Sleep Anxiety, Generalized Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Specific Phobias, Tics, and Trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling). A special chapter on "real-life fear" guides parents in how to talk to children about such topics as illness, death, and war, by emphasizing safety rather than risks.
- Demonstrates excessive distress out of proportion to the situation: crying, physical symptoms, sadness, anger, frustration, hopelessness, embarrassment
- Easily distressed agitated or angry when in a stressful situation
- Repetitive reassurance questions, “what if” concerns, inconsolable, won’t respond to logical arguments
- Headaches, stomachaches, regularly too stick to go to school
- Anticipatory anxiety, worrying hours, days, weeks ahead
- Disruptions of sleep with difficulty falling asleep, frequent nightmares
- Perfectionism, very high standards by which nothing is good enough
- Overly responsible, excessive concern that others are upset with him or her, unnecessary apologizing
- Demonstrates excessive avoidance: refuses to participate in expected activities, refuses to attend school
- Disruption of child or family functioning, difficulty with going to school or friends’ houses
- Excessive time spent consoling child about distress with ordinary situations, excessive time coaxing child to perform normal activities, e.g., homework, hygiene, meals
Excerpt: Chapter One: Anxiety in Children: Too Much of a Good Thing
"Don't run into the street, stop climbing on that, careful, that will break." These are words that most parents have to say over and over again, but that most parents of anxious children will probably never have to utter. In fact, parents may find themselves kept in check by their worrying child--"Did you lock the door? Is the gas tank full? Did you send in the permission slip?" Though it can often be confusing or frustrating to parents that their child must feel every wrinkle in the day and race ahead to prepare for every eventuality, we must understand that anxious kids are just doing what their brain tells them to do. Anxious children are highly cautious, overcorrecting for the possibility of danger. In fact their wiring has them seeing danger when it's not there. Born with a mind that casts tall, scary shadows on ordinary things, they spend their days enduring great distress over things that their peers don't even notice. Anxious kids may recognize that they are different, but they don't know why, assuming that this is just how they are. Because we don't see things as anxious kids do, we may be impatient, judgmental, and perhaps even overprotective, but not necessarily effective. The more that we can understand about what our children are seeing and feeling when they are anxious, distortions and all, the more we can empathize. If we don't empathize, we lose our audience. They won't stick around for the lesson, because they think you don't understand the problem in the first place. Children's fears are a source of concern, distress, and even embarrassment for parents. When it's their child who is hiding in the corner at the birthday party, in tears at the school play, or unable to go on the school camping trip, parents are stuck. Rather than getting mobilized to help, parents often feel an urgent need to find the "off" button for those fears to simply stop. What fuels that concern further are two thoughts: first, "this shouldn't be happening, my child shouldn't be afraid," and second, "I don't know how to fix it." It is this two-part punch that fear delivers to parents, immobilizing their helpfulness response and leaving both them and their kids at a loss--or more often in a "you should," "I can't" contest of wills. This chapter introduces the concept of fear--how it functions as an essential safeguard for survival. Fears and worries can help children put the brakes on in situations with which they are unfamiliar. Rather than hurling yourself into a swimming pool when you don't know how to swim, a good dose of fearful "what if?" can keep a healthy degree of caution in the picture until that is no longer needed. In addition, this chapter explores the differences between normal fears and anxieties, and takes an inside look at how anxiety shapes a child's experience. Finally, it presents different models for how fears and anxieties develop, exploring the influence of such factors as genetics, temperament, and experience. The bottom line is that children come by fears honestly. The more parents understand that fear is nothing for them to fear, the more they can be instrumental in helping kids out of these glitches.
Praise for Freeing Your Child from Anxiety:
Following up on her outstanding guide for parents of children with obsessive-compulsive disorder, Dr. Chansky once again demonstrates that she is the master of providing clear, accessible, practical advice and guidance for wise and loving care of the anxious child. Her ability to provide parents with quite sophisticated yet extremely digestible information, all effectively aimed at solving real-world problems, is very impressive indeed.
--Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D.
Author of Dear Patrick: Letters to a Young Man, Brain Lock and The Mind and the Brain.
Freeing Your Child from Anxiety is an excellent book, one of the best of its kind. Written for parents, it will also be indispensable for any adults (including educational, medical and mental health professionals) who work with children who are anxious. …For each anxiety disorder, she offers a step-by-step plan and concrete suggestions for precisely what to do to help children overcome their anxiety. This book has the potential for helping thousands and thousands of children, their parents, and their families.
--Judith S. Beck
Director, Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research
Clinical Associate Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania
Past President, Academy of Cognitive Therapy