Parenting can be a challenging journey, especially when it comes to helping our children navigate through their anxieties. Children experience a wide range of emotions as they grow, and anxiety is one of those emotions that can leave both parents and children feeling overwhelmed.
This is where Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions (SPACE) comes into play – an approach that empowers parents to provide a safe, validating, and confidence-boosting environment for their anxious children.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the concept of SPACE and give actionable steps on how to start helping anxious children build resilience and self-confidence.
What is SPACE anxiety treatment?
SPACE is a parent-based approach for treating childhood anxiety. The foundation of this approach rests on the idea that, as parents, our primary role is to guide and support our children through their emotional experiences rather than remove all sources of stress or discomfort.
SPACE recognizes that anxiety is a normal part of development, and rather than attempting to eliminate it entirely, it aims to equip children with the tools they need to cope with their anxious feelings. The first step of this process is building a supportive relationship with your anxious child.
How to Support an Anxious Child
- Give Validation: Start by actively listening to your child’s fears and concerns without judgment. Let them know that their feelings are valid and that you’re there to support them. It’s helpful to acknowledge your child’s emotions without trying to fix them. Say things like, “It’s okay to feel worried sometimes; everyone does,” or “I understand that this is hard for you.” Validate their discomfort (even if you don’t fully understand it yourself!).
- Express Empowerment: After validating your child’s anxious feelings, it is important to express messages of confidence in their ability to manage their anxiety. This may sound something like, “I know it’s so hard for you to ride the bus alone, but I’m sure you can handle this!” These kinds of statements can help to build confidence over time.
- Stop the Fragilizing: Fragilizing happens when we give messages that a child is incapable of handling difficult emotions (such as anxiety). This might sound like statements such as,” Oh, he can’t handle going to places that are too busy,” or, “she has too much anxiety to remember to make her bed.” Too much fragilizing can lead a child to view themselves as delicate, breakable, and overly dependent on parent help.
- Don’t be Demanding: Another unhelpful approach is demanding- this is when we give the message that they should be able to do the things they’re afraid of (“it’s not hard to sleep alone in your room; your sister is able to do it just fine!” or, “the pool isn’t scary, just jump in already!”). When we demand and anxious child “just get over” their anxiety, we give the unintended message that something is wrong with them if they’re struggling. This can instill a sense of shame, which makes the entire anxiety cycle harder to break out of.
- Praise the Process: Celebrate any effort your child makes to tackle tasks that bring up anxiety, no matter how small they might seem. Praise them for facing their fears, even if it didn’t go perfectly. This may sound like “I’m so proud of you for trying a new food- I know that’s something that can be really hard for you” or, “You made it through all of your classes today, even though you felt really uncomfortable- that was so great!”
As a parent of an anxious child, you can make a significant difference. Instead of eliminating sources of anxiety for your child, focus on nurturing a supportive relationship where you can teach them to handle anxiety constructively. This empowers them to face fears with resilience and ultimately fosters their growth and well-being.
Learn more about SPACE and how we treat anxiety issues at Vivid Psychology Group.