Researchers discover a way to prevent anxiety in children

Anxiety doesn’t discriminate. Your doctor might have it, your child’s teacher, your neighbour. And if you’re a parent with anxiety, it’s likely your child will also end up with the disorder. But new research has given hope to parents, that therapy could actually stop children getting anxiety.

Living with anxiety is like constantly being followed by a rain cloud. Sometimes you’re walking fast enough to stay dry, and other times you’re soaked through. And for parents, there’s the sobering reality that their children are more likely to also develop anxiety. For children, it’s a frightening and debilitating disorder that can impact school work, friendships and home life.

New research has found that by using family intervention therapy, kids can avoid getting anxiety. University of Connecticut Health psychologist Golda Ginsburg led the study of 136 families, which each had at least one parent with anxiety, and a least one child aged between six and thirteen.

She found that the intervention worked, with only nine per cent of the kids who had therapy developing anxiety after one year. But for those children in the group that didn’t get any form of therapy, 31 per cent got anxiety.

Golda Ginsburg says it shows just how vulnerable the children of parents with anxiety are.

“If we can identify kids at risk, let’s try and prevent this,” she says.

Around half of children who have anxious parents end up having the disorder themselves, which could manifest itself in a host of ways, including fear of different foods, and avoiding situations that make them anxious.

“Anxiety and fear are protective and adaptive. But in anxious kids they may not be, because these children have thoughts about danger and threat when there really isn’t one,” says Ms Ginsburg.

The health researcher explains that some traits of anxiety are learned, usually from parents. And it’s these that she believes can be nipped in the bud, before they actually develop. Through therapy, the kids involved in the study were taught how to recognise signs of anxiety, and what to do to put the brakes on.

“We taught the kids how to identify scary thoughts, and how to change them,” Ms Ginsburg says.

The researchers now have additional funding to find out whether the effects of the therapy will actually continue to help these children as they grow up.

“I’d say we need to change our model of mental health to a checkup method,” Ms Ginsburg says. “Like going to the dentist every six months.”

If you’re seeing signs of anxiety in your children and want some help, information is available through KidsMatter.

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