Anxiety is a common problem in children especially teenagers as they grow up. While some anxiety is a normal part of development, severe anxiety can impact on child’s daily function and well-being. from the parent’s point of view, it can be challenging to recognize when your child’s worries are beyond what is considered normal. That’s where exposure therapy comes in. Exposure therapy is a proven strategy to help children and teens manage their anxiety and overcome their fears.
How I can recognize if my child has an anxiety disorder?
Occasional worries are normal, but if your child experiences significant distress or struggles in daily social interactions or school due to persistent, excessive, and irrational concerns, they may have an anxiety disorder.
Difference between Fear and anxiety
Fear is an emotional reaction to a genuine or perceived immediate danger, with children potentially fearing strangers, separation from parents, or particular circumstances (e.g., darkness and storms). In contrast, anxiety involves anticipating a future risk, with older children and teenagers possibly experiencing anxiety in social settings or concerning academic or athletic performance, among other concerns.
What Is Exposure Therapy?
Mental health providers often refer to exposure therapy as “systematic desensitization.” This technique involves creating a “fear hierarchy” where your child ranks situations from the least scary to the scariest. The goal is to work through the hierarchy bit by bit, facing each fear head-on. Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing your child to the feared object or situation, starting with the least anxiety-provoking scenario first. Once your child is capable of successfully facing a fear, they can move on to the next level, gradually increasing the difficulty of the challenges in their life.
The Benefits of Exposure Therapy
There are many benefits of Exposure Therapy we discuss here below
Reduced Anxiety: By gradually exposing patients to their fears, exposure therapy helps them manage anxiety symptoms and conquer their fears.
Enhanced Coping Skills: Relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, and positive self-talk are taught to patients for better anxiety management and reduced medication reliance.
Long-lasting Results: Exposure therapy has demonstrated enduring effects in decreasing anxiety symptoms, with patients typically experiencing significant, lasting reductions.
Personalized Treatment: Tailored to individual fears and anxieties, exposure therapy is more effective in addressing each patient’s specific needs.
Safe Environment: Conducted in a controlled setting, exposure therapy allows patients to confront their fears without risk of harm or danger.
Decreased Medication Dependence: Exposure therapy can lower the need for anxiety medications, crucial for those with negative side effects or medication dependency.
Improved Quality of Life: By alleviating anxiety symptoms, exposure therapy enhances patients’ quality of life, enabling participation in previously avoided activities and increased confidence and control.
Cost-effective: Generally less expensive than alternative therapies or medications, exposure therapy is more accessible for patients with financial constraints.
Research-backed: As a well-studied, evidence-based treatment for anxiety disorders, exposure therapy offers patients confidence in its efficacy and safety.
Increased Self-Efficacy: Exposure therapy fosters a sense of self-efficacy, or belief in one’s ability to manage anxiety, improving overall well-being and confidence in tackling challenging situations.
How to Practice Exposure Therapy
It’s the most important aspect for parents to choose an activity for their children over which they have some control so that their child can stick with it for as long as needed. Exposure practice can be hard to do, so let your child earn a reward for practicing bravery and seek assistance from a mental health professional with experience treating anxiety to help guide you through exposure-based therapy.
Get on the Same Page as Other Caregivers
Spouses, partners, and grandparents can all be allies in helping your child practice bravery and learn to cope. This can only happen if you are all practicing the same strategies. For example, it is not helpful to your child if one parent encourages them to wait until “worry time” to talk about anxiety, but another parent consistently offers reassurance throughout the day. Your child will quickly learn to go to the parent who offers reassurance and gives them lots of attention throughout the day.
Knowing When to Seek Professional Help
If your child’s worries are seriously distressing or causing problems with friends or school, talk to your pediatrician. They can help you find local mental health providers who specialize in treating anxiety in children and teens. When looking for a mental health provider, consider one who takes a skills-building approach. Remember, you cannot reason with anxiety, so treatment should not only involve talking about fears. Good treatment requires action! Most of the work should be done outside the provider’s office, and parents should be involved in every step.
Recognize when professional help is needed
If your child’s anxiety is causing significant distress or interfering with their social or academic life, consult your pediatrician. They can assist in finding local mental health professionals specializing in anxiety treatment for children and teens. Consider the following when selecting a provider:
- The provider should focus on skills-building, as anxiety cannot be reasoned with; treatment should involve action beyond discussing fears.
- Most work should occur outside the provider’s office, with homework assigned between sessions, such as practicing relaxation techniques or addressing fear hierarchies.
- Parental involvement is crucial in supporting children with their homework, monitoring progress, and providing rewards for achievements.
Exposure therapy is a powerful tool to help children and teens overcome their anxiety and fears. With the right support and guidance, your child can learn to manage their anxiety and live a healthy, happy life. If your child is struggling with anxiety, don’t hesitate to seek professional help and explore the benefits of exposure therapy.