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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Anxiety-Free Kids: Book Review


Anxiety is extremely common among kids. What could a child possibly have to worry about, you wonder? Oh man, where do I start?

For one thing, anxiety has a genetic component. If you and/or your partner, or someone in your immediate families struggles with anxiety or depression, you and/or your child may have a predisposition. Parents also model behaviour for their children, so if your kids see you getting anxious over your weight, finances or health, they may develop anxiety about these things too.

Either way, kids these days, have tons to worry about, from bullying, body image, and academics, to parental strife and divorce, household financial strains, global crises, and a million other issues!

I have read several articles that suggest many behavioural issues we see among children are really a manifestation of anxiety. Unfortunately, we focus on the behaviour (anger, violence, withdrawal, defiance) without exploring the true cause.

Unfortunately, it can be tough to treat anxiety in children, especially when they may be too young developmentally for effective treatments. In addition, depending on where you live, mental health resources for kids may be unavailable and/or unaffordable.

For this reason, psychologist, Bonnie Zucker, Psy.D., wrote Anxiety-Free Kids for parents. She doesn't intend for it to be an alternative to counselling or other treatment, but, rather, to compliment it. To use as an additional tool at home with your child.

The book has 2 sections, one for parents, and the "Kids Only" Companion guide. Parent and child are supposed to read the corresponding chapter simultaneously and then come together to do the exercises collaboratively.

The first chapter explains and defines anxiety and the disorders on the anxiety spectrum, such as phobias, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, panic attacks, etc.

The second chapter provides instruction for setting up a support team for your child as well as team goals.

Chapter three explains how to relax the body through breathing, guided imagery, meditation, and yoga.

I love the fourth chapter because it encourages kids to distinguish between useful and useless worry, or stress versus distress. I love this because it is something even most adults cannot do! It is also important for people to realize that the goal should never be to eliminate all stress or worries. That's neither productive nor realistic.

Chapter six is about how to change negative thoughts to more positive ones and seven is about how you can encourage your child to change their behaviours once they have started to address their dysfunctional thoughts and feelings.

Does this all sound familiar? It's cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), one of the gold-standard treatments for anxiety. The problem with CBT, though, is you need a certain degree of cognitive development and intellectual acuity to benefit from it. What Zucker has done, however, has packaged it into a process using very accessible language and exercises for children.

Chapter seven suggests ways to continue to build your child's confidence in the face of their fears, eight is focused on getting parent and child to reflect on their progress through the program, and nine suggests how you might motivate your child to start the program with you (this should probably be read before you start, actually).

Chapter 10 gives more detail about different anxiety disorders and a whole chapter (11) is devoted to bedtime/nighttime anxiety and sleep problems.

Finally, chapter 12 gives parents suggestions for coping.

The book doesn't specify what age range its for, so I am assuming it is left to the discretion of the parents whether or not the child is ready for it. They have to be able to read and write, for sure!

I really like this book, I think Zucker did a great job of taking standard CBT strategies and packaging them for kids. Actually, I think they would work for a lot of adults, who otherwise might struggle with CBT homework exercises. So I definitely recommend this book if you have a child who is dealing with anxiety of any kind. Not all kids may be willing to do the program, nor will all benefit from it, as is the case with any treatment program, but it is definitely worth a shot!

Disclosure: I was sent the book to review, but all opinions on this blog are my own.