Growing Up Brave: Expert Advice On Kids’ Anxiety, From Separation To Monsters

Donna Pincus

Donna Pincus (courtesy of BU, Photo by Crystal Conte for Portrait Simple)

I am not an anxious person — I was born with an even keel — but I am one hell of an anxious mother. Everyone knows that mothers tend to worry, but still, I’ve found it shocking how intense, and how nearly unbearable, concern for a child can be, even when the cause clearly doesn’t merit the distress.

So when I saw the BU Today headline “When the world is scarier than it should be” this morning, of course I immediately clicked. And now I have a new book on my wish list: “Growing Up Brave: Expert Strategies for Helping Your Child Overcome Fear, Stress, and Anxiety,” by Donna Pincus. BU Today writes:

Pincus, director of research for the Child and Adolescent Fear and Anxiety Treatment Program at BU’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, walks readers through techniques to reduce or eliminate childhood anxiety.
The book, which weaves science and anecdotes into an enlightening guide for parents, teachers, and health care workers, offers a readable counterpoint to the many less informed prescriptions kicking around on the internet.

And, it must be noted, less-informed parenting strategies that arise from our well-meaning instincts — whether we’re being over-protective, or pooh-pooh-ing children’s fears, or over-sharing our own fears.

BU Today: Will most parents who read this book recognize themselves in it?
Pincus: Parents will likely relate to the many difficult situations we are all regularly faced with—for example, knowing when to follow our so-called instincts to protect and when to take a step back and allow a child room to navigate certain challenges on his or her own. Most parents have faced this challenge of knowing how to strike the best balance. Numerous parents have related that they recognized themselves in the chapter on parent-child interaction styles that affect anxiety—and that their awareness of these parenting styles was the first step in modifying the ways they interact with their children.

The interview, by Susan Seligson, is worth a full read. I found particularly interesting this hint of the sorts of techniques that are being developed to help with childhood anxiety:

Can you describe one or two important coping skills you recommend for fearful or anxious children?
One important skill is to teach a child to understand the cycle of anxiety and how to break down anxious feelings into thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This helps give kids an appreciation for when anxious feelings are normal, how anxious feelings can become interfering, and how they can use tools to, as we put it, break the cycle. Another important skill is to develop a Bravery Ladder, which essentially is creating a hierarchy of situations, in order from easiest to hardest, that the child has previously avoided. The child then learns how to begin to enter these situations to retrain their brains to not experience fear. Essentially we help children understand on a basic level the concept of why exposure therapy works to make kids feel less afraid.

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