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A Parent's Guide to Effective Early Intervention for Childhood Anxiety

childhood anxiety life free of anxiety podcast lifeskills for kids Aug 30, 2023
Help for the Anxious Child

A Parent's Guide to Effective Early Intervention for Childhood Anxiety

Seeing your child struggle with anxiety pulls at every parental instinct you have. You wish you could instantly relieve their fear, worry, and panic. Unfortunately overcoming anxiety isn’t quick or easy, but with effective early intervention you can set your child up for success.

Arm yourself with knowledge around childhood anxiety treatment. The key is taking action early, when your child’s brain is most open to forming healthy coping skills. With the right help, anxious children can build resilience and self-efficacy that lasts a lifetime.

 

Know the Signs of Anxiety in Children

The first step is tuning into potential symptoms, which may include:

  • Avoidance of school, social situations, or specific triggers
  • Physical complaints like stomachaches and headaches
  • Extreme shyness, fear, or crying
  • Perfectionist tendencies
  • Frequent nightmares or difficulty sleeping

Clinginess, panic attacks, and obsessive thoughts around germs or illness can also signal anxiety. Catching the signs early allows you to intervene for the best results. Ongoing anxiety often leads to depression and substance abuse in the teen years.

Trust your instincts. You know your child better than anyone. If their behaviors or complaints seem driven by irrational fear, anxiety could be the culprit.

 Pay attention to potential anxiety symptoms like avoidance behaviors or complaints of physical ailments.

Don’t Wait to Pursue Anxiety Treatment

Resist the temptation to adopt a “wait and see” approach. Anxiety often intensifies rather than dissipates over time. As your child’s world shrinks due to avoidance behaviors, their anxiety is reinforced.

Early intervention prevents anxiety from limiting your child’s emotional, social and academic development. It halts the progression of misery for both child and family.

Look for programs offering skills-based treatment, like Lifeskills for Kids that empowers your child to manage anxiety independently. This reduces their reliance on medication and therapy as adults.

 

Teach Your Child to Modulate Their Physiology

Though you can’t instantly rewire your child’s brain, you can coach them through exercises that foster self-regulation of emotions. Techniques like deep breathing elicit the relaxation response, reducing panic and anxiety.

With regular practice of just 5-10 minutes per day, your child can retrain their body’s reaction to stress triggers. New patterns interrupt the weakened anxiety pathways. Your child will gain confidence in their ability to self-soothe.

Coping skills yield cumulative benefits over time. Starting young allows your child to master regulating anxiety by adulthood. A childhood free of anxiety establishes healthy baselines.

 

Instill Resilience Through Guided Growth

Children bounce back quickly when anxiety treatment is tailored for their developmental stage. Simple, brief interventions make a difference in recalibrating an anxious brain.

Treatment aims both to minimize anxiety symptoms and foster emotional resilience. With coaching, your child can gain coping skills along with a sense of competence over their emotions.

Make growth experiential by collaborating with your child. Allow them to feel empowered in finding solutions. Anxiety thrives on feelings of helplessness. Guide your child toward self-efficacy in managing challenging emotions.

 

Consider Medication as Part of a Bigger Plan

Medication may provide anxiety relief for some children in the short term. However, it doesn’t teach lifelong cognitive and behavioral skills. Address any potential chemical issues, but pursue additional treatment as well.

Cognitive behavioral therapy successfully rewires anxiety responses for both kids and adults. CBT replaces irrational thoughts with rational ones and anxiety-provoking behaviors with constructive ones. Mastering these skills equips your child to handle anxiety independently.

Early intervention with CBT establishes healthy neural pathways and thought patterns. Your child can overcome anxiety through confidence in their own expanding toolkit.

Create a Team Approach

As a parent, you may feel overwhelmed in trying to help your anxious child. Seek professional support, but don't hand over the reins completely. Maintain an active role in understanding your child's treatment plan.

Ask questions to learn techniques for reinforcing new anxiety management skills at home. When parents, therapists, teachers, and physicians work together, children experience consistency. This collaborative approach builds on progress rather than letting it slip between the cracks.

Don't hesitate to consult a specialist like a child psychiatrist if your child's anxiety persists despite treatment. Severe childhood anxiety sometimes stems from underlying conditions that require a combination approach.

Early Intervention Can Change the Trajectory

Starting anxiety treatment early in life equips your child with fundamental skills for regulating emotions and building resilience. While overcoming anxiety takes patience and perseverance, you have the power to alter your child's lifelong relationship with fear and panic.

Look for programs that teach children positive tools and strategies tailored for their age. The preteen and teen years present prime opportunities to intervene before anxious thinking and behaviors become ingrained.

By building your child's emotional resources early on, you give them the lifelong gift of freedom from anxiety's limitations. With consistent support, an anxious child can gain mastery over runaway worries and develop confidence to conquer life's challenges.


Life Free of Anxiety PODCAST EPISODE TRANSCRIPT: Help for the Anxious Child

[00:00:00] Erica: Hi, it's Erica. Welcome back to the Life Free of Anxiety podcast. Last week, we talked about how to know if your child might be having anxiety. So if you didn't catch that, no problem. You can go back and give it a listen. Um, this week, we are discussing why early intervention is so important. So we've got Two great episodes that go together.

Also, and this is very exciting, in a few days we're relaunching the LifeSkills for Kids program. So you might have heard us mention that on the last episode. It's a program that was developed with over 15,000 kids, and Dr. Barr has used it with over 100 kids himself in his office. Dr. Barr is a licensed clinical psychologist, and he has been practicing in Los Angeles for many, many years.

So he's used this himself with over 100 kids. So what you get is a printable workbook and audio sessions that help kids develop life skills, that's why it's called LifeSkills, that will help them deal with the stresses and anxieties of life. So they can stop with the anxiety now and not grow into anxious adults.

Because we all know how much that can shrink their world and the problems that come with anxiety. into adulthood. If you're interested in finding out more, head to lifefreeofanxiety.com/kids and sign up to be notified. We're going to send you an email next week so you can get 50% off when we launch.

And now onto the show.

[00:01:21] INTRO MUSIC

[00:01:21] Erica: Welcome to the Life Free of Anxiety Podcast, where each week we'll bring you another discussion to help you on your way to overcoming your fears. I'm Erica and together with Dr. Charles Barr, a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in anxiety, we'll be your guides on this journey. Because you are not broken, you are not alone.

And you are on your way to living a life free of anxiety.

Well, it is the Life Free of Anxiety podcast. Hi, Dr. Barr.

[00:02:00] Dr. Charles Barr: Hi, Erica. We've got a beautiful day again.

[00:02:03] Erica: 102. I don't know if that's your idea of beautiful. It's not my idea of beautiful.

[00:02:08] Dr. Charles Barr: A little on the warm side.

[00:02:10] Erica: Stay inside. With a high electricity bill, too. That's also not a welcoming thing. But, we are back. We're in Southern California, obviously. And we talked last week about how to know if your child may be experiencing anxiety.

But before we get into the benefits of early intervention, I just wanted to say we have just released an online version of the Life Skills for Kids program. So to find out more, head to lifefreeofanxiety.com/kids.

And a lot of the stuff Dr. Barr and I are covering today is what this program covers, but we're gonna we're gonna talk more about that. Right now we're going to discuss early intervention. Dr. Barr, why does early intervention matter so much?

[00:02:53] Why Early Intervention for Childhood Anxiety is SO Important

[00:02:53] Dr. Charles Barr: Well, it matters because the longer a child is anxious and is not functioning fully, the more impaired they can become and the more life they lose out on. And so, to find effective treatment is very important for adults, but it's also very important for children. They're in their developmental stages, and they're trying to grow and develop aspects of themselves, their self esteem, their social behaviors.

There's all kinds of their intellectual abilities, and all of those get affected by the anxiety and slows all of those processes down.

So it's very important for us to be able to intervene for the child's sake. And also for the family's sake, because if you have a very unhappy child or a very anxious child, then that disrupts the whole family atmosphere. So we want to be able to get to these children and save them years of suffering, heartache and sadness.

[00:03:56] Erica: How can we change children's physiology from young to prevent panic into adulthood?

[00:04:05] Teaching a Child to Modulate their own Physiology

[00:04:05] Dr. Charles Barr: Well, put it this way. We can help the child learn how to modulate their own physiology. We're not going to change their physiology, so to speak. We're going to try to teach them how to modulate their own physiology, so that through learning how to breathe and that kind of thing, that they can regulate their own bodies.

Children are very adaptable and they like to be competent and know how to do things. It's like, "oh, I can make my heart rate come down. I can allow myself to relax more. And so my heart doesn't race and I don't sweat so much and I don't get so scared."

And so that is a very powerful thing that we can do for them. And we do that through breathing basically. It is teaching them how to breathe differently. To do abdominal breathing.

Now if your child is a little bit older and they're in band or something. If they're on the woodwinds or the horns or something. Their band teacher is going to be talking to them about breathing with your abdomen. You know. Get your abdominal, your diaphragm working because you're going to need that.

You have to breathe all the way from your belly up to be good at band. So those kinds of things.

[00:05:26] Erica: With breathing, I feel like there's a parent listening who says, "My kid's not going to have the attention span to do a full meditation or to cooperate with that kind of thing". What do you think about that? How much are they needing to do daily to really see benefits?

[00:05:45] Dr. Charles Barr: Well, they don't have to learn how to meditate necessarily.

They just have to learn how to regulate their breathing. So we can change the breathing in a very, very short time. We can teach that in a very short period of time.

[00:06:00] Erica: That's really interesting. I didn't know that. Because with adults, we have to do a longer format of slow breathing or body relaxation. Is it different with adults and children?

[00:06:10] Dr. Charles Barr: Well, adults could learn it quickly too, but we've gotten years of practice doing it wrong. So we're having to relearn how to do it. And with children, we're teaching them a new skill and they love practicing new skills. So they'll take it and they'll practice it on their own multiple times a day just because they've found a new skill.

And that's what really triggers our body to do the physiological changes, that breathing. And reason you do it over and over is so that that will become habit, but they can do that instantly. Really.

[00:06:47] Erica: They learn a lot faster than us. And that's really why we hear all of our lives. If you think back, you've heard it all your life. Take a deep breath, right? I probably first heard that when I was three years old or something. We tell my son that sometimes.

I happen to be a person who did not learn to breathe well, from very young. Actually what I was taught was that you always need to hold in your abs because that's what keeps them strong and that's what keeps you looking thin and that was something that was taught to me very young. I will take a class or something. I do voiceover and so they'll instruct us to breathe and I've had instructors come over to me and be like, "what's going on here?"

It's not natural. I'm constantly holding in my stomach. It's just something that I was taught and I'm still trying to get out of. So I totally get what you mean about why learning that from young matters.

[00:07:39] Dr. Charles Barr: Yes.

[00:07:40] Erica: That makes a lot of sense to me. Would have helped me a lot to learn that instead of hold it in.

[00:07:47] Children are Resilient and Learn These Skills Quickly

[00:07:47] Dr. Charles Barr: Let me give you an example of how quickly things can change for children. One of the seminars I went to a few years back was led by a man who had been in Thailand just after the tsunami.

And so he said he found children who were just wandering aimlessly around with glazed looks. So he got a group of these children together and got them in a little hut that was still standing and took them through a breathing exercise where he had them just breathing in. Holding it. Breathing out. Breathe in. Hold it. And breathe out.

And just in the breathing, over a period of five minutes, he only kept them for about five minutes. And then he said, okay, you can go play. And they all went outside and started playing. So that glazed look was gone. They had re-regulated their physiology enough so that they could be creative again.

That's the point. A child can re regulate their physiology very quickly with a little bit of direction and structure and having them be guided just a little bit. They can learn to re regulate and then that frees them up. So much.

[00:09:11] Erica: And I feel like it doesn't just free up the child. It's freeing up the parent because there's always so much fear for a parent, I think, of are they getting screwed up? Are they going to turn out this way? Am I messing them up? And I really liked how you've said in the past that you don't need to become a psychologist to be a parent who can help.

It's hard when you see your child struggling in some way . When you break it down the way you just did about the resilience of children, it feels good to me. Okay, kids can bounce off.

[00:09:46] Dr. Charles Barr: They do, they bounce back. They're very resilient. If a little bit of breathing can make that big a difference in completely traumatized children, they certainly can make a difference in your child who is having, anxiety because of school or that kind of thing.

But we have to give them the tools and they have to have the right tools.

[00:10:08] Erica: Yes, I know, with back to school, have a friend right now who says that her son is, um, dreading school and his stomach has been bothering him for days. She says, "I think it's anxiety," and I was thinking, "I think you're right." Because that's new things, back to school, there's so much that can overwhelm a child and we start panicking too.

My friend was telling me, " Oh, I hope he doesn't hate school like I did because I remember in second grade, that's when my stomach aches started." And we really get taken away by all this. But it just goes to show ways to jump in. There's ways to turn things around.

[00:10:48] Dr. Charles Barr: Yes, there are. And that's what the Life Skills program is designed to do. And I think it is very aptly named, since it says it's "life skills." Because we want to teach them skills that they're going to use for the rest of their lives. And how to think for themselves, think about themselves, how to regulate their bodies, and to not scare themselves.

I don't know this child that you were referring to, but I would assume that he has all kinds of scary thoughts running through his head and all kinds of "what if" statements. What if this happens or that happens, and how will I feel, and what if my stomach hurts? What if I throw up? Those are very scary thoughts to children, and they just make the anxiety worse. And so the stomachache gets worse and the dread gets worse.

And that can really, really start interfering with their development, certainly it interferes with their enjoyment because they don't have any enjoyment. And that will interfere with their education and with their socialization and everything else.

[00:11:54] Erica: I wanted to ask you about medication, because I know that there's parents listening who have their children currently on medication. Maybe for some obsessive thoughts that were coming up or maybe challenges going to school. What is your take on medication and children? I know you can't diagnose anyone, obviously, or tell anyone what to do, but I'm just wondering what you would say possibly to a parent who's really not sure what to think.

[00:12:22] Dr. Charles Barr: Well, if your child is stressed enough that you have them on medication, then I would really encourage you to get further help for the child, not just medication. Medication may be very helpful and it certainly has its place. But it's not the only thing that needs to be done. So I would really encourage you to head on over to the LifeSkills Program.

[00:12:47] Erica: Yes, lifefreeofanxiety.com/kids.

[00:12:50] Dr. Charles Barr: So head on over to that and take a look at the LifeSkills Program, so that you are not just using medication, because the child will depend on the medication because the medication will work. But we want He or she to depend on themselves. We don't want them to just depend on medication because then what happens with children is the same thing that happens with adults Well, what if my medication runs out or what if I forget to get it or what if I forget to take it you know? And then the very fact that they forgot to take it freaks them out rather than the fact that they got really anxious over something else. So we want them to feel like they've got some effectiveness within themselves.

[00:13:34] Erica: Right. Their own individual skills that they've learned. I know that even for me, when I did the CHAANGE Program, I started the CHAANGE Program on medication. I had talked to my general doctor that I wasn't sleeping through the night. I was feeling, oddly enough, like I would need to run in the middle of the night sometimes.

I was in flight. The doctor that sounds concerning. Let's try medication. And it really wasn't until the CHAANGE Program began, that I personally got off medication when I was halfway through the CHAANGE Program. But I remember telling you I was on medication to start and you said, "that's fine, great. If it helps, great. If not, you can go off of it."

But I remember the freedom that came with the CHAANGE Program, which is the parent program of the LifeSkills Program. I felt so good about myself when I was just making decisions for me and feeling so much more calm after the program and getting off medication was nice.

It's not for everyone to get off medication, but I personally liked it because I was having side effects of medication. But the feeling is so good when you finish the program. I've done the adult version, so I know the kid's program is going to be similar and...

[00:14:47] Dr. Charles Barr: Here's an interesting thing. Medication always runs the risk of having a side effect, but there are no side effects to the cognitive behavioral techniques that we use. And so we're teaching the child skills that are normal skills that other children have already learned in one way or another, even though we don't actively teach it.

And we should be. It would be a good curriculum to have in the school, to teach this to all of our children because it just helps them become better people and become more regulated within themselves. So there aren't any side effects to it except feeling better. Well, I vote for feeling better.

[00:15:32] Erica: Yeah, that sounds good.

[00:15:35] Dr. Charles Barr: So, we don't need to worry about side effects and we don't need to worry about, what am I doing? Am I brainwashing my child? And that kind of thing is like, no, this isn't a brainwashing technique or anything like that. It's teaching the child skills that they need to be able to regulate their own bodies.

[00:15:57] Erica: Yeah, it's very hard to explain exactly what's in the program, but it's what you would need. So, I always say there's only one way to find out. And when it comes to your kids, and the fact that intervening early is so urgent, I don't think there's anything to lose trying. Especially what you said about medication, I think it gave so much clarity, you know, you have to do something else too.

[00:16:23] Dr. Charles Barr: And you mentioned earlier that the parent doesn't have to become a psychologist or a counselor. They just need to be a parent, but we can arm the parent with the same kinds of skills so that they can help teach the child how to do progressive muscle relaxations and talk their child through that.

You know, that's not a hard thing to teach. It sometimes is a hard thing to grasp inside your body if the parent can be a coach and coach their child in doing that, well that's a real win. And anxiety is such a pervasive thing, that when it shows up, it affects how you think. It affects how you feel. It affects how you behave and it affects your psychological well being overall. So it really is an important thing for us to address.

[00:17:15] Erica: Yes, and there's not one person that I've met, I know they're out there, but I've never met anybody who had anxiety as an adult who didn't have it as a kid in some way. I mean, all my friends who have anxiety tell me stories of childhood, of something that happened, something that scared them. I have a friend who ran a race that she says she doesn't remember running.

I think that was in high school. She had some sort of anxiety thing where she got so nervous from it and she ran the race and doesn't even remember.

[00:17:48] Dr. Charles Barr: Oh, my.

[00:17:49] Erica: It's just what my point is, is if it's in childhood, there's a good chance it's coming into adulthood unless you get in there.

But I know there's so many well meaning parents. What do I do? Well, this is a great way to get involved and not have to become the psychologist, but just to become, you know, the best...

[00:18:10] Dr. Charles Barr: Now, especially in the younger children, they're still in the magical thinking place. And so fears get blown way out of proportion and sometimes they will figure out some way to try to calm themselves. But, you may find them doing rituals or repeating certain things and you're kind of going, what, what are you, what, what's going on?

But they found some way to try to calm themselves. So if we give them a socially appropriate way, a way that doesn't make them stand out in some way that, that other kids are going to look at and kind of go, what are you doing? Because, we don't want our children teased and bullied. They're going to get enough of that anyway.

Every child gets enough criticism from the other kids. We all know what that feels like. So we don't want them to be acting out or in some way, which they may do from the anxiety, or withdraw and cringe, refuse to go to school even. Uh, we've got some children that just refuse to go because they're too scared.

[00:19:19] Erica: Yeah, Dr. Barr, I, uh, I got a email, or actually it was, yeah, it was an email of somebody who sent me a picture of the program.

I think you saw it, I posted it on social media, because we're on there too, and somebody sent me a picture of all the tapes that they still have from the program in 1992. Of course, we're all online now, but it was funny to see, I've never seen the program in cassette form. That was cool.

And, and I made a comment that why would anybody ever keep that for all these years, every single cassette and all the homework if it didn't work?

[00:19:57] Dr. Charles Barr: Well, that's exactly right. And, I think you also commented on there that well, it's because it does work and we've changed it very, very little because why fix it if it isn't broken.

[00:20:10] Erica: You're right.

[00:20:11] Dr. Charles Barr: And, it's what I like to call timeless effective therapy. It worked back then, it works now, it's going to work in the future.

And if you worked it 30 years ago and you get anxious again, you can work it again and it will work for you again. Because the skills are, they're basic skills and the skills regulate our bodies and really, really help us.

[00:20:39] Erica: Yes, and the same is true about the LifeSkills Program. It is almost as old as the CHAANGE Program. I don't know exactly what the age difference is, but it's just as effective. We haven't changed much and it's back and available. So, um, it's possible we'll be hearing from some LifeSkills kids who have grown up soon.

I don't know. I haven't, haven't heard from them yet, but I've heard from a lot, a lot of people who've done CHAANGE.

[00:21:04] Dr. Charles Barr: You know, it's interesting. One of the things that I'm aware of, because I worked with several kids who have done the LifeSkills Program, is they just move on with life, you know? After they get over the anxiety, they just move on with life and it just kind of gets buried back there and all that stuff.

So they don't even, you know, if you say something to them, you know, six years later, Hey, do you remember that LifeSkills Program you did? What? What you talking...

[00:21:33] Erica: Good point. That's why they're not emailing me.

[00:21:36] Dr. Charles Barr: No, they don't even remember, but it changed their lives.

[00:21:40] Erica: Yes.

[00:21:41] Dr. Charles Barr: So, let's be encouraging. I want to be encouraging anyway to all the parents out there with anxious children. It's like there is help available. And it's in a very deliverable form that you can handle as a parent and if your child is already in therapy with someone, you can bring the therapist into it as well.

You know, let the therapist know the program that you're using and see if they'll work with you on that.

[00:22:09] Erica: Yeah. We got an email yesterday that, somebody is going to be using the CHAANGE Program with their therapist. So that's a great point. You can always bring that in and do it alongside, even if it's not a CHAANGE therapist, you can still request that

So I'll just give out that address one more time: lifefreeofanxiety.com/kids to find out more. Dr. Barr, you've got some fun trips planned and fun stuff ahead. I'm very excited for you.

[00:22:37] Dr. Charles Barr: We, we hope to have a great time on vacation. So...

[00:22:41] Erica: Yeah and you know what? I have my 10 year wedding anniversary coming up!

[00:22:46] Dr. Charles Barr: Oh, well, that's that's fantastic.

[00:22:49] Erica: Because I was feeling left out. I had to throw in something about me. Can't let you have all the fun.

[00:22:55] Dr. Charles Barr: Well, that's right. Well, that's okay.

[00:22:59] Erica: All right. Well, we will see you guys next week. Thanks so much for being here, and we hope this was helpful.

[00:23:05] Dr. Charles Barr: Okay. We'll see you next week.

[00:23:07] OUTRO

[00:23:07] Erica: Thanks so much for tuning in today. I hope that something in today's conversation provided you with a feeling of hope, determination, or purpose. I know what you're going through, and that's why I want to give you some of the tools that helped me in my anxiety journey. To get a free copy of Free From Fears head to freefromfearsbook.com to find out more about the CHAANGE Anxiety Treatment Program.

Find us at CHAANGE.com Thanks again for listening.

And remember you are not broken. You are not alone. And you are on your way to living a life free of anxiety. See you next

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