Anxiety disorders can significantly affect a child’s life, impacting their social, academic, and emotional development. In an effort to mitigate their child’s distress, parents commonly engage in the counterproductive behavior of “parental accommodation.”
This blog post will explore the concept of accommodation and SPACE (Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions) treatment approaches. We’ll explore the adverse effects of accommodation on a child’s anxiety and provide examples of common accommodation behaviors.
Understanding Parental Accommodation
Parental accommodation is the well-intentioned response by parents to alleviate their anxious children’s distress. It entails adjusting family routines, activities, or environments to alleviate a child’s anxiety temporarily. However, it inadvertently reinforces the child’s fear and anxiety over time.
Examples of Parental Accommodation
- Offering Reassurance: Parents often provide repeated reassurances to anxious children, such as frequently assuring them that “everything will be fine.” While this temporarily comforts the child, it reinforces the notion that their fears are valid and require constant reassurance.
- Avoidance: Parents may avoid situations that trigger their child’s anxiety, such as social events, school, or specific locations. This avoidance may offer temporary relief but perpetuates the child’s avoidance behaviors, hindering their growth and resilience.
- Doing for the Child: At times, parents take over tasks their child finds anxiety-provoking, like completing homework or handling challenging social situations (such as ordering at a restaurant or introducing themselves to strangers). This communicates to the child that they are incapable of handling such tasks independently, eroding their confidence and reinforcing their fear response.
- Minimizing Exposure: Parents often go to great lengths to minimize their child’s exposure to anxiety triggers, paradoxically reinforcing the belief that these triggers are genuinely dangerous. Triggers might include physical separation from a parent, uncertainty about upcoming plans, or ambiguous social situations. Continually minimizing anxiety exposure can give the message that anxiety itself is dangerous (which it isn’t!).
Breaking the Cycle with SPACE Anxiety Treatment
Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions (SPACE) is a structured approach designed to break the cycle of accommodation and empower children to build resilience in the face of anxiety. SPACE encourages parents to:
- Understand How Anxiety Works: SPACE treatment educates parents about anxiety, helping them understand how anxiety gets worse over time with avoidance behaviors and certain parental accommodations. Parents are educated on the role of worrying, reassurance, “stepping in,” willingness, and other concepts that give parents confidence in their plans.
- Foster Supportive Growth: Parents are guided to step back and allow their children to confront anxiety-provoking situations, promoting independence, self-efficacy, and a sense of confidence to manage uncomfortable feelings. This starts gradually and is built on a foundation of support and understanding of the child’s genuine anxiety struggles.
- Reduce Family Accommodations: SPACE advises caregivers to scale back on family accommodations, empowering their children to manage their anxiety without them. This can help families significantly reduce the time, energy, and emotional/financial resources that go into managing an anxiety disorder.
Parental accommodation, while well-intentioned, can unintentionally exacerbate child anxiety over time. Understanding the concept of accommodation is the initial step in breaking this cycle. SPACE Anxiety Treatment equips parents with the tools and strategies necessary to support their anxious children in a way that cultivates resilience and independence, ultimately enabling them to manage their anxiety more effectively.
By breaking the cycle of accommodation, parents play a pivotal role in their child’s journey to improved mental health and overall resilience. Learn more about SPACE treatment options.