Have a Question? Need Parenting Advice? Ask Michael Hawton

There is research to show that where significant adults in a child’s life can learn how to respond to a child’s anxiety, this type of intervention can be as effective in treating a child with mild-level anxiety compared with seeing a psychologist.[1] When either a parent or teacher uses a cognitive behavioural intervention, their efforts can be as effective in combatting mild child anxiety. For at least two-thirds of children, there is a strong correlation between family management strategies and a child’s development of a locus of control orientation. Changing a child’s locus of control has been found to significantly influence school achievement [2] and anxiety levels[3]. Locus of control refers to the perception that events are determined by one’s own behaviour (internal control) or by outside forces such as other people or fate (external control).

There are key differences in the manner in which the two interventions occur. Psychologists may see the child for eight sessions of 50 minutes in a therapy space and achieve results. Parents, on the other hand, are there with the child in everyday interactions. They are “Johnny on the Spot” when it comes to identifying and intervening in a child’s anxious patterns. However, not all parents (nor teachers for that matter) are ready to become involved in helping a child with his anxious behaviour.  There’s probably a few reasons for this.

First, many adults don’t believe it is their right or their role to correct children’s faulty thinking. While they will often want to do something, anything, to relieve a child’s anxiety, they don’t know how to coach the child in how to meet with adversity and life’s normal challenges. So, without knowing what to do, they can often find themselves colluding with the child’s wish to avoid an anxiety-provoking situation, simply because it’s easier. There’s a fairly widespread tendency to let a child’s anxiety go-by as an isolated incident. The problem with this view of things is that those isolated incidents soon add-up for parents and, then, parents can find themselves accommodating their children’s anxious behaviour regularly.

Second, a great many people believe that challenging a child about their anxious talking or anxious behaviour feels mean. What they are doing in this instance is conflating what a psychologist would normally do in therapy (teaching key skills to ‘challenge’ anxious thoughts) with being unsympathetic to the child.  The thing is kids need real world experience in dealing with anxiety. It’s the old adage; better to prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child. What I am seeing currently is lots of road building – and that is not good for children’s mental health in the long run.

Third, many parents lack confidence and processes for managing child anxiety. Without a well-learned process they can’t override their feelings of being mean. Many parents are paralysed from acting because they let their own feelings (of not wanting to upset the child) get in the road of them building resilience skills in children. This is not a matter of simply ‘tough love’. But rather, it is about helping children to become better problem solvers, to learn how to question their initial anxious emotions and to know how to return-to-calm. All of these skills can be taught by parents and they are within the grasp of the average parent.

In conclusion, child anxiety is a big problem in Australia. A 2020 report by Australian primary school leaders found that over 80% of them believe that child anxiety is a big problem in schools. As such, we shouldn’t shy-away from providing the significant adults in a child’s life with the right skills to help with intervening in child anxiety. Parentshop has developed No Scaredy Cats, a program to teach parents, teachers and teacher aides the skills to be able to effectively challenge anxious behaviours in primary-aged children.

Click HERE for No Scaredy Cats for Teachers and Teacher Aides teaching you to identify and challenge anxious behaviours in the classroom.

If you want parenting tips on managing anxiety and building resilience, Parentshop is running an interactive webinar for parents to learn a parent-led intervention to reduce anxiety and build resilience in children aged 2 -12 years. The workshop will be held over It will be held over three, two hour long sessions over three consecutive Thursdays, evenings 6th, 13th and 20th May 2021 from 6.30pm – 8.30pm to register visit www.parentshop.com.au/parent-courses

Michael Hawton is the founder of Parentshop, providing education and resources for parents and industry professionals working with children. He has authored two books on child behaviour management: Talk Less Listen More and Engaging AdolescentsYou can find more information, including his books and self-paced online parenting courses at https://www.parentshop.com.au/parent-courses

1] Creswell, c., Parkinson, M., Thirwall, K. & Willetts, L. Parent led CBT for child anxiety (2017), Guilford Press: New York. 

[2] Au, E. W. M. (2014). Locus of control, self-efficacy, and the mediating effect of outcome control: Predicting course level and global outcomes in an academic context. Anxiety, Stress & Coping: An international Journal.

[3] Arslan, C. Dilmac, B. & Hamarta, E (2009) Coping with stress and trait anxiety in terms of locus of control: A study of Turkish university students,. Social Behaviour and Personality, 37 (6) 791-800.

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