The first time Jessica Calise can remember her 9-year-old son Joseph’s anxiety spiking was about a year ago, when he had to perform at a school concert. He said his stomach hurt and he might throw up. “We spent the whole performance in the bathroom,” she recalls.
After that, Joseph struggled whenever he had to do something alone, like showering or sleeping in his bedroom. He would beg his parents to sit outside the bathroom door or let him sleep in their bed. “It’s heartbreaking to see your child so upset and feel like he’s going to throw up because he’s nervous about something that, in my mind, is no big deal,” Jessica says.
Jessica decided to enroll in an experimental program, one that was very different from other therapy for childhood anxiety that she knew about. It wasn’t Joseph who would be seeing a therapist every week — it would be her.
The program was part of a Yale University study that treated children’s anxiety by teaching their parents new ways of responding to it.
“The parent’s own responses are a core and integral part of childhood anxiety,” says Eli Lebowitz, a psychologist at the Yale School of Medicine who developed the training.
The parent training seems to work because it lets children confront their anxieties while parents provide love and support from afar, says Anne Marie Albano, a psychologist at Columbia University who did not work on the study.
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