The title of a recent Wall Street Journal article about exposure therapy. 1.8 million young people, or nearly 10% in the U.S., experience anxiety disorders of some sort. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic, Virginia Tech and other institutions are finding that slowly exposing children to the things they are anxious about, at an early point in treatment, can be highly effective in helping them overcome anxiety.
Stephen Whiteside, a Mayo pediatric psychologist, in the article:
When parents help children to escape from feared situations, anxiety symptoms may worsen and children frequently become more impaired.
Exposure therapy explained. Also verbatim from the article:
1) Children are gradually exposed early in treatment to things and situations they fear, and parents receive training as ‘exposure coaches’. Instead of avoiding things, the child begins to learn new ways to behave.
2) Don’t overreact. If your child is complaining or distressed about an upcoming situation—say a math test—tell him you understand how upsetting it is but you are going to be very proud of him for trying.
3) Save the praise. Praise the child only after she actually takes a step toward dealing with her fear, such as germs (‘You did a great job of riding the bus on the field trip.’)
4) One step at a time. Encourage your child to take small steps toward a goal, such as visiting an airport in advance of a scheduled flight.
5) Encourage decision making. Let your child make some choices on his own, such as whether to walk past a dog or visit a house where there is a dog.
6) Grin and bear it. Encourage your child in situations that might involve her fears, such as conversing with strangers—even if you think she might become upset or make a scene.
7) Positive reinforcement. Communicate that you are confident that your child can accomplish the goal, such as separating from the family for a camping trip. Tell her it will get easier every time she does something new.
Number five reminds me that when I was young, I was deathly afraid of dogs. In the sixties, with three older sibs, I was left to my own to work it out. Less intelligent than the dogs that scared the sh*t out of me, I tried to outrun a few. Which of course only made things much, much worse. Now, I’m happy to report, the family sometimes worries I may be too close to one particular doggie.
Spare me the “guess marijuana really is legal in Washington” jokes. It’s early.