Christine Willing, M.Ed., NCSP,
My Child Was Just Diagnosed with Anxiety. What Should I Do Now?
If your child was just diagnosed with anxiety, you’re probably wondering what you can do to help. The first step is simple—don’t worry. As a therapist, I work with a lot of childhood conditions, and anxiety is by far the most treatable.
In this post, I’m going to walk you through the first 4 things to do when your child is diagnosed with anxiety. Children are extremely resilient. With the right interventions and support, they can quickly learn to manage their symptoms and live a full, happy life.
1. Find a Therapist Who Offers Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
If you haven’t done so already, finding a qualified therapist is your first order of business. Within just a few months, therapy can reduce or eliminate symptoms completely.
But not all anxiety treatments are created equal. Evidence shows that the most effective approach to treating anxiety disorders in children is cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT.
To see why CBT works so well, it’s important to understand a bit more about anxiety disorders.
Anxiety is a condition of avoidance—meaning a child will avoid stressful situations that make them anxious. But you won't be doing your child any favors by allowing them to hide from things that upset them. In fact, you could be making their anxiety worse.
I think Jon Kabat-Zinn put it best, “You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” When we talk about anxiety, you can’t always control the things that make you anxious, but you can learn to ride the waves.That’s what CBT is all about.
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps children realize that they do not need to avoid stressful situations or the negative feelings that arise from them. Instead, they can learn to challenge and change their thoughts to overcome anxiety.
The best part is, CBT can start working as soon as treatment starts. Plus, the skills your child learns in CBT won’t just help them now but will teach them to minimize stress for the rest of their lives.
2. Reinforce Therapy at Home
Reducing your child’s anxiety doesn’t end when you leave the therapist’s office. How you react to your child’s anxiety at home can be just as important as therapy. That’s why I often recommend parent training.
In parent training, you will learn the tools you need to maintain and reinforce the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy at home.
Training is a vital part of treatment because anxiety can be tricky. For instance, how do you know when to push your child to face their fears and when to let them avoid situations that make them anxious? Parent training will give you the strategies you need to answer tough questions like this.
3. Request Accommodations in School
One of the most common triggers for childhood anxiety is school. When I worked as a
school psychologist, I saw firsthand how much stress tests, homework, and classroom interactions can cause.
Thankfully, there are many ways that a school team can help reduce stress during the school day. Children with anxiety often benefit from accommodations in the classroom such as extra time on tests or taking tests in a smaller environment.
To request accommodations for your child, reach out to their teacher or other contact at the school.
4. Talk to Your Pediatrician
The effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy is often dependent on the severity of the anxiety. For more severe cases, a combination of medication and therapy may be necessary.
If that’s your situation, talk to your doctor about anxiety medication. Anxiety medications have little to no side effects and be the perfect complement to therapy.
Treating Anxiety Now Sets Your Child Up for Lifetime Success
Anxiety treatment can do more than just reduce symptoms. Children often learn incredible things about themselves, like how to overcome fear, push through discomfort, and do things they never thought possible.
These valuable skills put kids with anxiety ahead of their peers in terms of self-awareness and resiliency. And the benefits of treatment don’t stop after childhood. Starting anxiety treatment now will help your child develop a healthy relationship with stress—which will have positive effects for years to come.
Get in touch to begin cognitive behavioral therapy or parent training with one of our therapists.
If your child is currently being treated for anxiety, let us know how it’s going by commenting below. Your experience could be invaluable for other parents in our community.
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