15 ways practitioners can help:
1. See your role as a coach to the parent.
As mentioned, you don’t need to be an expert in parenting or anxiety. Taking an interest in your client’s child, following up on their parenting concerns, offering strategies and working collaboratively with the parent to work through this issue can all have a big impact.
2. Invite the parent to explore the issue further.
Once a parent has raised their concerns about their child’s anxiety with you and you have some understanding of the child’s experience, invite the parent to explore this issue further with you.
“Sam is feeling anxious on kinder days, sometimes refusing to put clothes on, and he really puts up a struggle when you try to put him in the car. It’s wearing on you too. You’ve rated his anxiety at these times as a 5 out of 10. I’ve got some strategies and tools we can try and see if that makes a difference. Would you be interested in talking more about this and seeing if there is something we can do together that might help?”
If you haven’t already, collaboratively move through the decision tree.
3. Set a goal.
Before trying any strategies, support the parent to set a goal about what they would like to achieve. Setting a goal is important as it:
- keeps you and the parent focused on what’s important
- allows the parent to track their child’s progress; and
- helps parents maintain motivation to pursue goals during tough times.
At this early stage you want to find out and be in general agreement with the parent about:
- what the parent would see the child doing if their response to anxiety is improving. For example, “Maia will sleep in her own bed all night”.
- choosing child actions or behaviours the parent can track over time, to see if their child’s response to anxiety is improving
- the difference to the child and parent’s life if anxiety was reduced.
“What would you like to see Andy doing instead of clinging to you?”
“How would things be different for you and Mohammed if he could settle into school?”
4. Ask the parent what they have tried already to help their child and the impact it had.
“What have you tried in the past that seemed to make a difference?”
“What do you think about trying that strategy again?”
“Has anything you’ve tried seemed to make things worse? Can you tell me what happened?”
5. Share information about evidence-informed options to help children with anxiety.
Some great places to start are:
Emerging Minds Parent Guide 2: Gathering information about your child’s experience of anxiety
Raising Children Network
Brave program for young children
6. Ask the parent if they would like to implement any of the options available.
“Of these options, are there any you think might help or are worth trying?”
7. Share knowledge you have about anxiety and invite the parent’s responses.
“The most effective way for children to overcome their anxious feelings, is for them to gradually do the things they feel anxious about. This helps children learn that things may not be as bad as they think and that they can cope with anxious feelings”.
“So that children feel successful in coping with their anxious feelings, it’s important we start with something that’s not too scary for them. Would you be interested in talking about what things you could do to encourage Nicholas that’re only a little scary?”
8. Explore what will help the parent to use one of the strategies.
If the parent decides they are going to try a strategy, check:
- how the parent feels about giving that strategy a go
- if they need other types of support to help them use the strategy; and
- when they plan to start using the strategy.
Exploring this will highlight any barriers that may get in the way of the parent following through on their intentions.
“Ok great, you seem pretty keen to check out these websites and learn more about anxiety. When do you think you can fit this in?”
“What might get in the way of you giving this a go?”
“When you have tried new parenting strategies in the past, what seemed to help?”
9. Prepare the parent for changes in the child’s actions.
- When parents start responding to their child differently and trying some of the strategies in Parent Guide 3, their child may in turn change how they act and respond to the parent and other family members. It’s important to let parents know that when they start using the strategies, children’s experience of anxiety may get worse before it gets better. Talk with the parent about how they can prepare for this likely initial increase in anxiety by thinking about:
- the timing of starting the strategies (e.g. it may not be a good idea to start when family members are
unwell or starting a new job)
- identifying people who can support the parent and child while they are first trying the new strategies
- when age-appropriate, involving the child in establishing a plan and deciding on strategies
- how the parent can be kind and compassionate to themselves while they are trying the new strategies.
10. Check in with the parent in the next session.
If a parent said that they were going to try one of the strategies, check in with them about how it went at their next session.
“Did you end up setting a regular bedtime with Tyler last week?”
“Since we last spoke, you were going to talk with your partner about how you can be a team in supporting
Destiny to say hello to three kids at playgroup. How did that go?”
11. If the parent did complete the action, explore with them the outcome it had and what their next steps are.
“That’s great that you supported Lily to stay at swimming lessons and didn’t cut the session short. What was it like for you to do this?”
“While Lily was clinging to you and saying she wanted to go home, how did you stay calm?”
“What do you think Lily will learn if you keep supporting her to stay in class, and then in the pool over the next few weeks?
12. If the parent did not implement the strategy, gently ask what changed or got in the way.
“Is reducing the reassurance you provide Elijah still something that you want to do?”
“What could help you to do this next week?”
“Is there a support person who could help with this?
“Is there anything I can do that may help?”
13. As part of your sessions with a parent, ask them how their child with anxiety is going. Ask questions to determine the intensity and impact of the anxiety.
“Tell me how Alex felt about going to the birthday party last week without you. Do you think his experience of anxiety was better, worse or the same as it has been previously?”
Checking in with the parent shows that you are interested, and it gives you the opportunity to monitor any changes. If anxiety does not improve or becomes worse, refer back to the decision tree.
14. Parenting a child experiencing anxiety can be tiring, so it’s important to check in with the parent about how they are coping.
“Alex’s anxiety is reducing; he is no longer asking you to travel with him on the bus to school. How are you going? You mentioned feeling pretty worn out the last time I saw you.”
“How are you feeling about things not improving as well as you would have liked? What do you think are the next steps?”
15. Involving the child.
Parents may bring their child along to an appointment so that you can talk with their child together. When seeking information about the child’s experience, if the child is comfortable to respond ask them directly, rather than asking the parent to respond for them.
Parent Guide 2: Gathering information about your child’s experience of anxiety and Parent Guide 3: Supporting your child outline tips about ways adults can talk with children to understand their experience.