2013 Books on Parenting Your Anxious Child: A Review

29 Dec

Your Anxious Child: Emails to Parents by Edward H. Plimpton, PhD

In 2013 three new books were published on parenting the anxious child: Why Smart Kids Worry: And What Parents Can Do To Help by Allison Edwards, Anxious Kids Anxious Parents by Reid Wilson  and Lynn Lyons, and The Opposite of Worry by Lawrence Cohen. Any book written about how to help anxious children is going to contain some overlapping suggestions and that is true of these books. So in dealing with nonstop reassurance questions from anxious children, Allison Edwards has the “The Five Question Rule,” Lawrence Cohen has “The Fifteen-Second Rule” and Reid Wilson and Lynn Lyons talk about avoiding “the content trap”. And these are similar to my blog essay on reassurance seeking. At the same time, each book presents a slightly different perspective in how they understand anxiety in children and consequently what to do about it.

Allison Edwards’ Why Smart Kids Worry: And What Parents Can Do To Help makes the interesting point that when children have uneven development they may be vulnerable to anxiety. She is focusing on children who have intellectual abilities that are way in advance of their chronological age, such as the 8 year old who can read on a 12th grade level. Their capacity to take information intellectually is not in keeping with their ability to process it emotionally. As she explains, “It’s not that smart kids can’t understand the information, it’s that they can’t handle the emotional pieces that go along with it” (p108). I would suggest that whenever there is uneven development children may be vulnerable to anxiety because of the difficulty of making sense of their experience emotionally and intellectually —and it is not just a problem restricted to smart children. But being attentive to uneven development as source of anxiety is a valuable idea. Some age typical expressions of anxiety such as stranger anxiety in infants may reflect their new found awareness that there is stranger in front of them, but their not having the emotional resources to deal with this awareness. She lists 15 tools or practical suggestions that parents can use to help an anxious child, such as The Five Question Rule for repetitive anxious questions, which “…allows kids to ask only five questions about the same worry within one day” (p168). Perhaps because of the slightly more specialized nature of her book, her emphasis is shaded more towards managing anxious feelings than in articulating more explicitly ways to help face their fears.

Anxious Kids Anxious Parents is coauthored by Reid Wilson, who is one the major figures in articulating the cognitive behavioral perspective in managing anxiety.  Learning how to tolerate uncertainty and face your fears is central in this book. The authors articulate 7 parts or skills needed to solve “the anxiety puzzle,” involving: 1. Learning to expect to worry, 2. Talking to Worry or externalizing it, 3. Being unsure and uncomfortable on purpose, 4. Breathing which helps reset or reboot the system when a child is overwhelmed, 5. Know What You Want or having clear goals which is critical to tolerating the work involved in dealing with anxiety, 6. Bridge Back to Your Success because anxiety makes us forget when we were successful and 7. Take Your Plan into Action. Almost everyone who works with anxious children recommends trying to personify worry or externalize it. This book makes an important point that there are at least three ways that the child can relate or talk to his/her anxiety. 1.  A child can expect, it which would involve saying to the personified worry “I know you’re just trying to help” (p73).  2. A child can take care of it: “yes worry we are going to be nervous and then it will be over”. 3. A child can boss it around as in, “I will get back to you on that one worry”. The book also contains an interesting reading list of books for children that promote the cognitive flexibility  needed to deal with anxiety. A favorite book in their list is The Opposite by Tom MacRae and Elena Odriozola, in which a boy learns to think and do the opposite of what his worry would dictate.  In addition there is a free e-book Playing with Anxiety: Casey’s Guide for Teens and Kids, which serves as a companion volume for their book .

In  The Opposite of Worry: The Playful Parenting Approach to Childhood Anxieties and Fears, Lawrence Cohen recommends incorporating a physical and playful approach in helping the anxious child. As he explains “…like it or not, we have to deal with the physical body because anxiety clouds the thinking brain” (p 93). There has been increasing recognition that our response to danger not only involves the well described fight or flight response but also, when those options are not possible, a freeze or immobility response. The freeze response is a feature of trauma in which it is not possible to engage in either a fight or flight response. And anxious children often look frozen or immobile with an almost “deer in the headlights” presentation.  Cohen emphasizes that an empathic connection with a child is the critical foundation from which the adult can help the anxious child. He then suggests a variety of playful and sensory based interventions  including  the potential of rough house play.  His suggestion for a book is Juggling the Jitters by Deborah Miller, which as the title suggests provides a very physical solution to dealing with worries.  While emphasizing the importance of physical and sensory interventions, Cohen also is quite similar to Wilson and Lyons in stressing the importance of challenging the ever prevalent “What if” thinking found in anxiety and changing it into it with “What is” and learning to tolerate feelings of uncertainty.

Each of these new books on anxiety has something to offer the parent of an anxious child, and there is noticeable overlap despite the different perspectives of the authors. In dealing with children often the most useful advice someone can give is how to say something in a child friendly manner. And I certainly found material I could use in each of these books.

The following are Ytube videos of the authors:

Allison Edwards  http://youtu.be/_bJHJYjlcec

Reid Wilson and Lynn Lyons  http://katiecouric.com/videos/is-anxiety-ruining-your-family/ and   http://katiecouric.com/videos/teens-and-the-anxiety-to-succeed/

Lawrence Cohen  http://youtu.be/423q7PGgIj0

2013 copyright Edward H. Plimpton, PhD

One Response to “2013 Books on Parenting Your Anxious Child: A Review”

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