Up until recently the most studied and effective treatments for childhood anxiety have been medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Both of those treatments, however effective have serious shortcomings. Long-term fixes from medication especially for young children, are hampered in part because their use is not universally accepted as safe by parents. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy requires a professional and a child who is at least nominally receptive to treatment, willing to engage in change.
By it’s very nature, a child’s anxiety becomes a relational family system problem. Parents are wired to protect and help their children regulate.
When mammal babies are threatened they don’t look to fight off the danger, they signal the parent or caregiver for protection and regulation. This is a critical bio-neurological loop of attunement between parents and their children.
In the case of anxiety disorder as opposed to real and imminent danger, when a parent accommodates a repetitive anxious behavior, he/she is sending the signal that the danger is real. This expands the child’s sense of insecurity and lessens the opportunities for the development of resilience.
The threat response disorder highjacks the system INCLUDING THE PARENT’s. We’re wired to protect and soothe and help regulate. But since our systems are hooked to the child’s disregulation, ours becomes disrupted as well. And we seek to soothe ourselves instead of healing the child.
Since the secondary language of childhood anxiety includes verbal and physical resistance, anger, swearing hitting etc. it’s easy to understand the need for parent training in order to avoid the pitfalls of over-reacting to those behaviors.
Without training most parents will be at an increased risk for feeling rejected by their own children, and will re experience their own childhood, feeling rejected or not fully seen by their parents. This is the meaning of getting re-triggered
Parent training and engaging in some therapy or personal growth work is critical and probably number 1 on the list of first steps to healing one’s child.