SPACE: How a parent-led treatment program can help children overcome anxiety and OCD

As our understanding of childhood anxiety continues to evolve, it becomes increasingly clear the pivotal role parents play. Moms and Dads can inadvertently and unknowingly be engaging in behaviors that increase their child’s symptoms of anxiety. Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions (SPACE) is a revolutionary treatment approach that empowers parents to become the driving force behind helping their child manage their anxiety. Keep reading to learn how this parent-led treatment approach works and whether or not it may be the right fit for you and your child.

Mother kissing her anxious daughters forehead

What is Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions (SPACE)? 

Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions (SPACE) is an evidence-based treatment that takes a family-centered approach to addressing childhood anxiety. SPACE was developed by Eli Lebowitz, the Director of the Program for Anxiety Disorders at the Yale Child Study Center and the author of Breaking Free of Child Anxiety and OCD: A Scientifically Proven Program for Parents, after spending many years researching family accommodation and its influence on childhood anxiety.

Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions addresses the primary driver of anxiety in children: parenting behaviors that serve to minimize child anxiety, but in reality actually reinforce the anxious response. 

Rather than working directly with the child, SPACE takes a radically different approach and primarily works with parents. So, while the child is still considered the patient, the clinician uses the parents as the point of entry to target the anxiety disorder. This means that children (who may be resistant to therapy, or too young to really engage) can get the help they need without having to ever step foot in the office.

Understanding How Accommodating Behaviors Can Increase Your Child’s Anxiety Symptoms:

Parents are driven by an instinct to protect and comfort their children. This is a natural and loving response. But, while this stems from deep love and concern, it can unintentionally hinder a child’s growth and resilience in the face of life’s challenges.

It’s completely understandable that parents may feel inclined to allow their child to skip a social event that causes nervousness or answer the same question repeatedly to offer reassurance. The challenge lies in the fact that these well-intentioned responses may not be as effective for children who are inherently prone to experiencing heightened anxiety. When parents adjust their behavior to alleviate their child’s distress (referred to as accommodation behaviors in the SPACE program), it inadvertently exacerbates the child’s anxiety.

It’s important to note that accommodating your child’s anxiety does not make you a bad parent, and you certainly didn’t cause their anxiety. You can be a loving, warm, supportive parent and still benefit from modifying your behaviors to help your child cope with their anxiety more effectively. 

How Decreasing Parental Accommodations Can Improve Your Child’s Anxiety Symptoms

This way of understanding child anxiety means that one of the best methods for treating it is by changing the way that parents respond to their child. Accommodation behavior can be a drain on the entire family system–it can be exhausting for parents to rearrange their schedules and shuffle their priorities to prevent their child from experiencing any anxiety. It can be difficult for siblings and other other family members to adjust as the system is in flux– when mom takes a new job to minimize travel for her child who struggles with separation anxiety, when dad stays back from a family trip with a child who has a strong fear of flying. And in truth, these accommodation behaviors are even dysregulating to the child with anxiety, even though their original intent is to have the opposite effect.

What Happens with a Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions Treatment Approach

The SPACE treatment modality walks parents through a systematic and gradual approach for reducing their accommodating behaviors. In collaboration with a clinician, parents identify and map out these behaviors, then develop a customized action plan for exactly when and how to cease them.

Coupled with supportive statements to convey your confidence in your child’s ability to handle this uncomfortable shift, children start to feel empowered as they develop essential coping strategies for managing their anxiety. Plus, there are helpful suggestions for handling the emotional and behavioral outbursts that often accompany this transition.

Does Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions Work To Reduce Anxiety?

The response rates to evidence-based treatment, including SPACE, are excellent. Research shows that SPACE leads to decreased child anxiety. Families often graduate from Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions therapy after about 12 to 18 sessions.

Further, the benefits of SPACE extend to the parent-child relationship and the overall wellbeing of the family in general. 

Want to Know If Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions Would Be Beneficial For Your Child? 

The clinicians at Upshur Bren Psychology Group are proud to offer both individual and group SPACE treatment services to parents and caregivers. We welcome you to reach out to learn more. Click here to schedule a free assessment consultation call to find out what the best treatment option is for your unique child.

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