Anxiety and Children

We’re thrilled to share a blog post written by our Clinical Child Psychologist, Marie-Eve Dubois. Dr. Dubois is bilingual, helping children and families in both English and French at our Burlington therapy center. This post will also be featured on our blog in French!

As a psychologist working only with children, adolescents and their families, one of the most frequent concerns parents seek my help for their child is anxiety.

According to Statistics Canada, 6.4% of children under the age of 15 suffer from an anxiety disorder, making anxiety the most common mental health problem in children and adolescents. Anxiety can take many forms: specific phobias (e.g. dogs, dentist, etc.), separation anxiety (i. e. Becoming extremely anxious when separation from the parent occurs, such as when leaving the child at daycare), panic attacks, social phobia, selective mutism and generalized anxiety disorder.

Exposure Treatment

One of the most important aspects in the treatment of anxiety disorders is what we call ‘exposure’. This gradual process helps the child experience anxiety-provoking situations once he or she has learned coping strategies. This helps work around avoidance, which only serves to increase anxiety in the long term. For example, let’s think about a child who is afraid of dogs after having been bit. Parents stop visiting friends and family members who have dogs in order to avoid having to deal with a meltdown. When taking a walk in their neighbourhood, they change sidewalks when seeing a dog approaching. Soon enough, the child has learned that dogs must be REALLY dangerous if mom and dad make sure I don’t ever encounter one. In this case, exposure would consist of possibly looking at pictures of dogs, then petting a stuffed animal representing a dog, to slowly approaching dogs more and more. The key here is to remain in the situation until the child has calmed down and not to remove the child from the situation (that would be avoidance again).

Despite this being the most effective treatment for anxiety, a recent study published in Canadian Psychology has showed that this technique is underutilized in the Ontario public system, given the low numbers of practitioners with an expertise in providing this type of treatment. When seeking treatment for your child, here are some of the key things you should look for:

  • The professional you are working with should do a thorough interview to better understand the situation.
  • This will typically lead to what we call psychoeducation, or teaching you and your child about anxiety and how we can best help you.
  • Treatment will then consist of relaxation and other coping strategies, followed by exposure, either at home or in clinic.

It is also recommended that parents be involved in the treatment of their child to learn techniques and support their child so that they can benefit most from treatment and make anxiety a thing of the past! At Canoe, we’re committed to working with both children and their parents, creating a complete therapy treatment plan that works at the clinic and at home.

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