Anxiety Disorders in Children: A Family Affair


Written by Regine Galanti

When a child has anxiety, it often becomes a family rather than individual problem. While an adult with anxiety might suffer alone with racing thoughts of danger, or avoidance of anxiety provoking situations, children with anxiety are best viewed from a perspective that incorporates the whole family. This family-perspective is often true of adults with anxiety and OCD, but in the case of anxious children, it is the norm rather than the exception.

Take the case of Emma, an 11 year old who begins to have panic attacks. When she had her first panic attack, she was alone in her room, and felt her heart pounding, her breathing quickened, and her body began to shake. She was sure she was having a heart attack, and felt terrified, helpless and alone. When she felt better, she was determined to avoid those feelings of being alone and helpless forever. In order to feel safe, she refused to stay alone in her house, despite the fact that she used to do so easily. She demanded that her parents drive her to and from school, despite having taken the bus for years. Her father had to rearrange his work schedule to go in late every day, and her mother had to leave work early to pick her up. She was also incredibly fearful of being the last one awake in the house, and would constantly check on her parents to make sure they weren’t sleeping before she did. Her parents took to sitting in the living room to “prove” to Emma that they were awake, despite previously reading in bed, and sometimes going to sleep before their pre-teen daughter. She also asked her parents an endless string of health related questions, which she demanded the answers to, even though she challenged every answer. Emma’s mother and father were distressed by the effects of her anxiety on her own life, but recognized it was taking over their lives as well.

The term family accommodation is used to describe the ways in which family members of individuals with anxiety disorders adapt or modify their own behaviors to reduce their child’s anxiety. Accommodation in families most frequently involves parents – over 90% of parents of anxious children report that they change their own behavior to reduce their child’s anxiety in some way — but sometimes incorporate siblings as well. On its face, this may seem like a positive, as the family members are changing their behavior in order to reduce anxiety to help a child function better. Higher degrees of accommodation, however, are related to many negative factors in childhood anxiety, including a higher level of impairment in anxious children, and more severe symptoms. Accommodation sends the message to a child that their anxiety actually IS dangerous. In the case of Emma, her parents modifying their behavior to reduce her anxiety tells her that if she does stay home alone, something bad might actually happen, and that would be dangerous. Her parents are protecting her from something that isn’t actually dangerous, thereby sending her the message that she needs protecting. Instead, our goal when helping families with anxious children is to help parents support their anxious children – teaching parents how to tell their children that anxiety is a normal emotional experience, and that the best way to handle it is to face those fears even though it’s difficult rather than avoid them. The important factor to keep in mind here is that, though the child might be the one in treatment, often parents can play a role in reducing anxiety as well – though not in the way that you might think. By stripping away the layers of accommodation, parents can teach children how to face their fears in a healthy, adaptive way, and improve their long term functioning.

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What Clients Say

In a recent survey of our patients, 94% would recommend our practice to a friend.
Calmer in the Face of Hardship
I came to the Center for Anxiety for help in dealing with a family member who suffered from extreme anxiety. But I ended up getting a serious illness two months later and started having my own sessions. With the help of my therapist I got through my illness, learned to understand my habits that were making my major life stresses worse, learned to communicate better, taper my anger, and surprisingly I became more calmer even though my hardships in life worsened. Therapy is a lot of work and not easy, but nothing in life comes easy! I became a better and softer mom and (when I practice what I learned) and my kids and home are calmer and happier. I am still a work in progress and have more to work on, but I know I am on the right path. I wish I knew before how my communication style and anger were really impacting my life, how being softer you can accomplish way more then being harsh. I have been to other therapists in the past and I can hands down say that the Center for Anxiety’s approach is really effective. I have even referred a bunch of people to the Center and they have been really happy with the therapists and how much they really care for their patients.
I Tackled a Long List of Fears
When I first came to the Center for Anxiety, my list of anxieties/fears was long! I was scared of getting sick, getting stranded, driving, flying and more. With the help of my therapist, I immediately got to work and tackled every one of my fears. Now the world is open to me and I feel free! I can dream big and accomplish whatever I set my mind to! I am especially grateful that I was able to do all this without having to rely on medication. It was hard work – grueling at times! – but now I have the coping tools within me for life. In fact a family member recently said to me “You are awesome. You can accomplish anything you set your mind to because you don’t let fear stop you! ” Thank you Dr. Rosmarin and the Center for Anxiety staff for helping me get here. My fears no longer limit me and I love my life. Try it, it might turn your life around too!
Highly Skilled and Professional Treatment
When I sought treatment at the Center for Anxiety, the clinic was is in its incipient stages. However, by the time I successfully finished treatment, the Center for Anxiety grew and flourished into a world-class treatment center, offering cutting-edge, evidence-based treatment to countless individuals. The continued success of the Center for Anxiety comes as no surprise to me, with a team that contains such highly skilled professionals who display clinical acumen, empathy, and compassion. When I first entered treatment I was concerned that therapy would be similar to the experiences with past psychologists: a seemingly bottomless pit with no reductions in my anxiety symptoms, but was so relieved when I started to feel less anxious after only a handful of sessions. My therapist created a treatment plan that was tailored exactly to my needs and taught me practical skills to help me work through my anxiety that I still use and practice to this very day.
No More Panic
When I first came in, I was struggling with panic disorder and didn’t even know it, which only made dealing with it that much more difficult. After my first time sitting down with my therapist, however, I instantly started to gain perspective and look at the difficult situation in a different light. Our meetings helped me conquer the issue step by step and get my life back on track. I’d strongly recommend that anyone dealing with anxiety in a way that impacts their day to day life should visit the Center for Anxiety! I know it helped me tremendously.
Free of Obsessions
When I woke up one morning last June and didn’t want to get out of bed, I knew I needed help. The thought of getting through another day with all my anxieties, obsessions and rituals was just too overwhelming. After feeling stuck for years, I just couldn’t anymore. Thankfully, that’s when I found the Center for Anxiety. Dr. Rosmarin and his staff are experts at what they do, kind and professional. After just several weeks I accomplished my initial targets. The change I experienced in such a short amount of time was astounding that I stayed on for a while longer to work on more complex goals. I soon achieved those too. Now, I am free of my obsessions, know how to manage my anxiety, and love my life. My only regret: not having done this sooner. I wish I had known that you don’t have to wait to hit rock bottom to get help.
Depression Lifted
I’m 26 years old and I’ve been suffering from terrible depression for 7 years. In the throws of my sadness I literally wanted to die. Soon after starting therapy at the Center for Anxiety, my depression lifted. My suicidal thoughts began to dissipate. I remember the feeling that came over me as soon as the dark cloud above me left. It was the most liberating feeling I have ever experienced. I actually shouted to my friends, family and anyone nearby me “I’m Happy! I am Happy!” I felt free.
From EXISTING to LIVING
Over the course of four years I developed anxiety-like symptoms (tightness in chest, gut, back) that slowly but surely increased in duration and severity. The EXTREMELY uncomfortable nature of the symptoms notwithstanding, I still continued and managed to function. The effort required to do so, however, left me utterly drained. Having always been a very spiritual person I strongly felt that a course of therapy incorporating a spiritual component could potentially work well for me and decided to give the Center for Anxiety a try. Happily, I have achieved significant symptom reduction, tremendously improved emotional/mental health, and above all, Connection. Medication free. I’m no longer just existing, I’m LIVING. I’ve been given a second chance to become the unique human being that I was meant to be.
No More worries
I have wormed in healthcare for 36 years in many different settings, and I have been overwhelmingly satisfied with the Center for Anxiety. When staff says they are going to call, I get a call. From the first contact, I have been very impressed with the professionalism and efficiency. I had a situation and needed to have sessions more than once per week, and my clinicians worked out a schedule to accommodate my needs. I was astounded that they attended to me so quickly and effectively - they made my priority their priority. My clinicians were also excellent at what they do - they have a plan for me each session, and it's clear that they have thought in advance about each session, and that they are listening to what I say and observing what I do, even though our sessions have been conducted via Telehealth. Compassion is a quality that I have all too often found to be lacking in my experiences as a healthcare professional and patient, and this is not the case with the Center for Anxiety. Of all the websites I found on Google, I am so thankful that God guided my hand to yours.
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