Parent-Based Treatment is Effective for Treating Childhood Anxiety: Study

A child experiencing anxiety isn’t uncommon. There’s plenty of childhood experiences that can cause fear, questioning, and anxious feelings. Sometimes though, a child’s anxiety becomes all-consuming, and parents begin to question whether support is needed. According to Anxiety Canada, 20% of children experience childhood anxiety. Treatment for childhood anxiety varies, from medication to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Recently the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry released a groundbreaking study that reveals that a new, parent-based treatment for childhood anxiety was just as effective as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This experimental study confirms that parental education on childhood anxiety leads to better coping for the child at home, and greater resources for the parents.

The 2019 study from Yale University Child Study Center compared a treatment plan called Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions (SPACE) with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) programs. The study involved 124 males and females between the ages of seven and 14 in the SPACE category, and 60 males and females in the same age category undergoing CBT treatment. The children who were in the SPACE category had no child-therapist contact, and the children in the CBT programs had no parental treatment.

In both groups, the results showed that treatment led to positive outcomes for the children. However, for families in the SPACE category, the results found that family accommodation was positively reduced. According to an article in YaleNews, Eli Lebowitz, the lead author of the study, said that families accommodating their anxious children is a common issue. In the article, Lebowitz said, “While the [accommodating] responses of parents are natural, studies have shown they also leave children suffering from debilitating anxiety into adulthood.”

This study offers a new way of treating childhood anxiety, which better equips parents and is far less invasive for the child. The biggest difference between the parents who were in the SPACE category, and the parents who were not involved in treatment, was the home accommodations. Parents who were educated on childhood anxiety understood how to manage and navigate their child’s anxiety at home, which led to less “giving in,” and more supportive responses.

As a special needs parent myself, I know that we don’t come wired with the tools to deal with neurodiverse children, or children who have special needs and mental health challenges. That doesn’t make us bad parents, not even in the least bit. But finding support, education, and empowerment through supportive tools can lead to greater results in our homes.

I’ve seen this myself. When I feel defeated and my spirit is low, I become more accommodating - my guard comes down and my boundaries soften. It’s in these moments that I experience the most chaos in my home, because I’m not using the tools that I know lead to effective results.

Now that the study proves that the SPACE program was successful in supporting families who have children with anxiety, Lebowitz plans to train more professionals in the program. Hopefully with more training, and more awareness, more families will be supported, too. Having a new and exciting treatment plan is far less effective if parents don’t have access to the resources and education required. Hopefully soon, more families will have access to treatment plans similar to the SPACE program created by Lebowitz.


For tools and information on Childhood Anxiety, visit Anxiety Canada and Anxiety Disorders Association of Ontario.




Brianna Bell is a writer and journalist based out of Guelph, Ontario. She has written for many online and print publications, including Scary Mommy, The Penny Hoarder, and The Globe & Mail. 

Brianna's budget-savvy ways has attracted media attention, and led to newspaper coverage in The Globe & Mail and The Guelph Mercury. In April 2016 Brianna will be featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less, alongside co-writer Brooke Burke. You can find Brianna's website at Brianna Bell Writes.