Help for Childhood Anxiety and OCD with Dr. Eli Lebowitz
This week’s episode is all about getting support and help for childhood anxiety, and I’m happy to share the work of Dr. Eli Lebowitz, clinical psychologist, researcher and the Director of the Program for Anxiety Disorders at the Yale Child Study Center. One of my favorite things about making this podcast is getting to talk with people who are top experts in their field, doing work that has the potential to deeply impact families in this community, including my own. Today is one of those conversations.
Eli and I are talking about his new book called Breaking Free of Childhood Anxiety and OCD: A Scientifically Proven Program for Parents, which is based on the treatment program Eli developed— Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions, or SPACE for short. What I find so empowering about this book and the SPACE program is the focus on what parents and caregivers can do to support a child dealing with anxiety.
Our discussion includes providing a solid understanding of help for childhood anxiety, how it impacts family systems, and why accommodating your child’s anxiety may be more harmful than helpful. This is such a powerful and compassionate approach to childhood anxiety and one that I think parents and caregivers of all children, diagnosis or not, can get a lot out of.
About Dr. Eli Lebowitz
Professor Lebowitz studies and treats childhood and adolescent anxiety at the Yale Child Study Center. His research focuses on the development, neurobiology, and treatment of anxiety and related disorders, with special emphasis on family dynamics and the role of parents in these problems. Dr. Lebowitz is the lead investigator on multiple funded research projects, and is the author of research papers, books and chapters on childhood and adolescent anxiety. He is also the father of three great boys.
Things you’ll learn from this episode
- The characteristics and manifestations of childhood anxiety
- The different clinical types of child anxiety and how they are related to each other
- Why the SPACE program is a parent-focused approach to how to offer help for childhood anxiety
- How children’s anxiety problems impact parents and the family
- Why and how accommodating a child’s anxiety can feel helpful in the short term but usually worsens the anxiety in the long term
- What are the primary reasons why parents accommodate their children’s anxiety
- What is the most important thing for a child with anxiety to learn
- The importance of reducing the accommodations while increasing support and how to do this
- How to reframe and respond to a child’s aggressive or angry response to reduced accommodations
Resources mentioned regarding help for childhood anxiety and OCD
- Breaking Free of Childhood Anxiety and OCD: A Scientifically Proven Program for Parents by Dr. Eli Lebowitz
Special message from our sponsor
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Debbie Reber 00:00
This episode is brought to you by ND Renegade. ND Renegade is a clothing company that celebrates neuro diversity. They make teess, tank tops, hoodies, and sweatshirts all with designs aimed at making neurodivergent people feel proud of their differences, and their clothes are tag free. Learn more at ndrenegade.com and use the code NDRtilt15 for a 15% discount.
Eli Lebowitz 00:27
Child anxiety is inherently at its core. It’s really not just like a one person phenomenon, just the child and the way that you know your child might have a fever. That’s them. Or they might have a toothache. That’s them. When they’re anxious. It’s not just them. It’s actually you, the parent and them because that’s how they respond to fear and what it means for parents of children with anxiety. It means that you are almost inevitably going to find yourself entangled in your child’s anxiety symptoms.
Debbie Reber 01:07
Welcome to Tilt Parenting, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host Debbie Reber. I have a great conversation for you today. My guest is Dr. Eli Lebowitz, a clinical psychologist, researcher and the director of the program for anxiety disorders at the Yale Child Study Center. One of my favorite things about making this podcast is getting to talk with people who are top experts in their field, doing work that has the potential to deeply impact families in this community, including my own. Today is one of those conversations and I can’t wait to share it with you. Eli and I are talking about his new book called Breaking Free of Childhood Anxiety and OCD: A Scientifically Proven Program for Parents, which I had the opportunity to read and cannot recommend highly enough. The book is based on the treatment program he developed — supportive parenting for anxious childhood emotions or SPACE for short. What I find so empowering about this book and the space program is the focus on what parents and caregivers can do to support a child dealing with anxiety, as well as providing a solid understanding of childhood anxiety, how it impacts family systems, and why accommodating your child’s anxiety may be more harmful than helpful. This is such a powerful and compassionate approach to childhood anxiety and one that I think parents and caregivers of all children, diagnosis or not, can get a lot out of. Here is our conversation. Hello, Dr. Lebowitz. Welcome to the podcast.
Eli Lebowitz 02:59
Alright, thanks for having me.
Debbie Reber 03:00
Well, I’m really excited about this conversation. I enjoyed your book thoroughly, and just felt like it was such a fresh voice in the conversation around kids’ anxiety, and OCD. So I’m excited to share that with our listeners. But could you take a few minutes at the head of this conversation to just share a little bit about what’s at the heart of the work that you do in the world.
Eli Lebowitz 03:22
At the heart of the work that I do is helping children with anxiety and related disorders and their family. That is what my work is really about at the Child Study Center at Yale, I oversee a program for anxiety disorders, and that is really the mission that I’m devoted to.
Debbie Reber 03:45
And I’m just curious how you came to that specialty. Was it personal for you? or How did you find your way there?
Eli Lebowitz 03:51
Well, like many others, I certainly have a good amount of personal direct experience coping with anxiety, including child anxiety. As a child, as a parent, I also have some experience coping with child anxiety. But it’s really an area that I’ve been interested in. For a long time. Anxiety disorders and also related disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD have really been a focus of mine for many, many years at this point.
Debbie Reber 04:21
Well, so you’re the perfect expert to talk about these things with us today. And just so we can have a baseline for our conversation. I know many listeners have experience with anxiety. But can you just take a moment to explain what is happening in a child’s brain and body when they are experiencing anxiety?
Eli Lebowitz 04:40
Sure, it’s kind of like a deceptive question because it sounds relatively simple, but it’s actually a little bit more complex. We all experience anxiety some of the time and that’s a healthy, normal part of life, right? We know that we have an anxiety system and we’re supposed to have it in order to keep us safe and how Identify what might be dangerous to us and help us stay out of trouble and away from harm. But when a child is vulnerable to elevated levels of anxiety, and is predisposed to anxiety, and it’s more problematic forms, very often, it can be like going through life that feels fraught with danger and risks all the time, even when a more objective or rational observer might say, you know, there’s really not that big of a risk in front of you. But for that child, it may feel like the world is really dangerous. Because when children are more vulnerable to anxiety, their brains just naturally tend to focus much more on anything that feels like a risk. So even small risks can start to be perceived as much bigger ones. And they tend to overestimate the likelihood of those risks. So even relatively unlikely events can seem much more probable. And so when you go through life constantly focusing on all the potentially negative events, and perceiving them as even more negative than somebody else would, and perceiving them as more likely than they realistically are, it’s easy to see why might why life might feel like a really dangerous and scary thing to be navigating.
Debbie Reber 06:24
Yeah, I hadn’t heard that before. When I you know, what you just shared when I read that these are kids who overestimate the likelihood of negative ends, they downplay the likelihood of positive ones. And it made me wonder, are these kids who we would describe as more glass half empty kids? who tend to be predisposed to anxiety?
Eli Lebowitz 06:45
That is very often the case, yes, a lot of anxious children will be perceived as a little bit more pessimistic. Because when you focus on how do I stay away from harm, sometimes that comes at the expense of how do I have positive experiences? You know, imagine, imagine the first time that you’re tasting a new food. And one person might look at an unfamiliar dish and think, ooh, exciting, I’m going to try something new, maybe it’ll be amazing. Whereas another person might look at an unfamiliar dish and think, oh, I don’t know that. Who knows, maybe it’s horrible. Maybe it’s really revolting. And I’m gonna feel just awful if I let it go anywhere near me. So I’m going to stay away. And the anxious child is a lot more likely to be looking at unfamiliar and new situations, or even slightly risky situations through that negative lens.
Debbie Reber 07:38
Yeah, you know, I’ve talked about this before on my show that I have a 16 year old and when he was maybe around eight, a therapist that he was working with kind of casually mentioned to me, Well, you know, his anxiety dot, dot, dot, and at that time, it never occurred to me, that anxiety was happening. I knew there was emotional dysregulation, like I knew these other things. And then when he, when this therapist mentioned it, all of a sudden, I connected all the dots, I realized the stomach aches, you know, the chewed fingernails, and I started seeing it. So I’m wondering if you could just take a few minutes and share what some of the signs might be that parents may not even be aware of our indicators of anxiety?
Eli Lebowitz 08:23
Yeah, well, first of all, that’s actually a great anecdote, because I think that experience that a lot of parents are going to have that when that light bulb goes off of Wow, my child is actually just really, really anxious. It can help to tie together a lot of confusing, puzzling, sometimes bewildering things that didn’t make sense before. And so for example, just just to give another example, a lot of children are going to have temper tantrums, right, they’re going to have anger outbursts. And when we look at that, we’re often thinking, well, this child is really not very well behaved, doesn’t really know how to keep control of his temper. But it’s easy to forget that that’s a behavior that can be driven by anxiety, right? That anxiety can prime us for feeling angry, irritable and even rage. And when we realize, Oh, this child is really anxious, and they’re lashing out Sure, in a way that’s really uncomfortable and unpleasant and even problematic. But it can help to make sense. And I think it’s useful to just bear in mind all the different parts of our functioning, that anxiety can really impact. Because if we were to close our eyes and imagine what an anxious child looks like, each one of us might have a mental image in mind, right? Like one person might think, well, he’s gonna feel really scared, and he’s gonna be looking down and away from people and cowering in a corner. And another person is gonna say, well, his heart’s gonna be racing and he’s gonna be breathing really quickly, and his palms are gonna be sweaty. Another person is saying, well, an anxious child is not going to sleep very well, he’s gonna have nightmares or difficulty falling asleep. And all of these can be true because anxiety can manifest really differently in different children. But B really impacts a wide range of different aspects of our functioning, it does affect our body, making our hearts race and our palms, sweat and our mouth dry. And also, like you mentioned, through the more chronic physical aspects, like those aches and pains, and your immune system getting worn down, so you’re more likely to get sick or just having headache and backache etc. And it does affect our thoughts. So we get this kind of tunnel vision. And we’re always focused on those things that make us anxious, and that makes it harder to pay attention to other things, like school, or friends, or hobbies, or family or movies, etc. And it also affects our feelings, so we’re likely to feel scared or angry. And we’re also less likely to feel other feelings like just being happy or calm or agreeable or enthusiastic, etc. And it affects our behavior so that we get so much more avoidant of the things that trigger our anxiety. And sometimes this can be really challenging for parents, we also get more controlling in our behavior, because we want to make sure that we’re in control that everything’s going just the way that we like, and that makes us feel safe. So it really affects a wide range of different aspects and domains of our function and can look really different than different children.
Eli Lebowitz 11:40
So helpful. And you know, in your book, first of all, you have so many great examples, I really found the anecdotes and the stories that you shared of different kids. so helpful, just just kind of see how this can play out and also see how parents responded, and how they might work with a child. And what we’ll get into that because you have just such a helpful framework for supporting parents who have anxious children. But there were so many types of anxiety that I wasn’t aware of, you know, you talk about separation, social phobias, panic disorders, OCD, food restriction. I’m wondering if you know, in your work, do you see that kids tend to have multiple types of anxieties? Are there some that are more common than others?
Eli Lebowitz 12:30
Yeah, it’s actually a great question. First of all, yes, children who are vulnerable to anxiety, a child who has one anxiety disorder, is actually more likely than not to also meet the diagnostic criteria for at least one other anxiety disorder as well. So for example, that child who has, let’s say, separation anxiety disorder, it’s actually more likely than not, but they also have another anxiety disorder, like social phobia, or generalized anxiety or a specific phobia. And that’s not because they actually have all these different problems and like illnesses, so to speak, it’s because really underlying that they have an overactive anxiety system. And the shared infrastructure between those different anxiety disorders is just manifesting in different domains. So even though we are like the anxiety doctors, we call them different disorders, we say if you have social anxiety, that’s one disorder. And if you also have separation anxiety, that’s another but really, underneath that, you have anxiety, and it’s manifesting in these different domains. And yeah, some of them are more common than others. And it also varies a little bit by age. So for example, in young children, preschoolers or early school age, having separation anxiety disorder, where you’re just really scared of being separated from your caregivers, like your parents, is very, very common and specific phobias are very common. And then as children get a little bit older, other disorders like social anxiety start being very common. And Generalized Anxiety starts being very common. And when we get later into adolescence, then the frequency of some other problems starts to pick up like panic disorder, and agoraphobia. And so different age groups will have a different frequency of the different anxiety disorders, but across all ages, anxiety disorders, in general are very, very common.
Debbie Reber 14:35
Yes, that is what I am reading more and more about, and I can only imagine, you know, in the past year and a half there has to have been a market increase. Is that the case?
Eli Lebowitz 14:47
Well, there’s certainly an increase in the number of families that are reaching out to us for help with anxiety. Absolutely. And it’s really interesting when we think about, you know, this whole experience that the whole world has been living through for the past year, plus the whole pandemic. It’s actually interesting because, of course, this has been a year, that seems almost engineered to make anxiety worse. And if you have any vulnerability to anxiety at all, then this whole year just seems like it was designed to make your anxiety worse. And one thing that, that I think is interesting is that, for some children, the hardest part, and the most anxiety provoking part was the earlier phases of the pandemic, when life just seemed to stop suddenly, and all the routines that we’re familiar with just went away, and parents suddenly didn’t have answers to so many questions, and nobody knew what tomorrow was gonna look like, I couldn’t see my friends. And for a lot of kids, those were the hardest parts of the pandemic. But for a lot of other children, it’s actually now the period of time when children are asked to resume life, when after not being in school in person, you suddenly have to walk back into a full classroom, or after spending a year in the house with your parents, they are all the time, you suddenly have to be separated from them, again, that is proving to be very difficult for those children. And so it’s like we have these different waves of the impact. And I don’t think we’ve seen the end of it at all.
Debbie Reber 16:20
Yeah, I would agree with you. I think it’s going to be a very interesting fall. For sure, as so many kids go back to what I you know, I can’t make predictions, certainly, but I’m, I have a sense that it might look somewhat normal, quote, unquote, normal, but it’s gonna be an interesting fall. So let’s talk about your book. Again, your book is called Breaking Free of Child Anxiety and OCD: A Scientifically Proven Program for Parents and what I think one of the reasons I loved it so much is because you focus on what parents and caregivers can do, as opposed to, you know, here’s how to fix your kid. Here’s actually what you can control, as you say, the only people we can control is ourselves in order to reduce our children’s anxiety. And so you, you share something called SPACE as an approach. Could you tell us what that is? What is that acronym?
Eli Lebowitz 17:17
Yes, absolutely. SPACE stands for supportive parenting for anxious childhood emotions, which is a mouthful, and so we just say space most of the time. But what space really is, is a completely parent based approach to treating child anxiety and related problems like OCD. And so it’s a treatment for child anxiety in the same way that other therapies can treat child anxiety, like cognitive behavioral therapy, for example. But it’s completely parent based, meaning that the active participant in the treatment, whether you’re doing that with a therapist that you’re meeting with, and there are large numbers of therapists who are trained and doing this treatment and can provide it, or whether you’re doing it on your own working with the book that you mentioned, breaking free of child anxiety and OCD, whether you’re doing it on your own or with a therapist, the focus is entirely on changing the parents behavior. And this is so important, because one thing that we know is, if we ask parents to go home, or you know, read a book, and then make their child do something different than what they’ve been doing in the past, sometimes that’s going to work well. And your child is really going to work with you, and it’s going to go great. But other times, it’s not going to go as well. Sometimes you can’t get your child to practice this great new skill that you learned about. Maybe you heard about, you know, exposure to face your fear. And so you’re excited and you want your child to do it. But what if they don’t want to do it? What sometimes that can lead to is a lot of conflict between parents and children. In space, there’s never a point where you have to make your child do something or make them not do something. And just by changing the way that you as a parent are responding to your child’s anxiety, you can actually help them overcome even really serious anxiety disorders.
Debbie Reber 19:18
Yeah, it is super empowering. And I think it is because so many parents feel helpless to see their child struggling so much and we get enmeshed or entangled in what’s going on with our kids. Can you talk a little bit about that challenge there in the the way in which a child anxiety can really impact everybody in the family?
Eli Lebowitz 19:42
Yeah, absolutely. And this is one of the most important aspects of child anxiety that we have almost completely overlooked for decades. It’s the thing that makes child anxiety special and different from adult anxiety. And that is children’s natural reliance on parents to help them with coping with anxiety provoking situations. We are born programmed to rely on our parents when we’re feeling anxious. This is hardwired into our nature as, as mammals as primates, as human beings, were born not really able to defend ourselves, you know, if we think about that fight or flight response that we usually associate with the anxious response, right, we think about fight or flight. Well, that works great for adults. If you’re an adult, you can fight your way out of a jam, or you can run away and escape a jam. But you’ve never seen a baby fighting their way out of a jam. That just doesn’t work. And they can’t really flee from situations either. So what do children do when they’re confronted with a frightening situation, whether that’s something external that’s happening, or even just a scary thought that they’re having? What do they do? They look to their parents. And their parents are also programmed and hardwired to notice when their children are feeling scared or anxious or stressed or threatened, and to step in, and to provide them with protection, and to provide them with soothing and regulation so that they can go back to feeling calm. And what this means is that child anxiety is inherently at its core, it’s really not just like a one person phenomenon, just the child in the way that you know, your child might have a fever, that’s them, or they might have a toothache. That’s them. When they’re anxious. It’s not just them, it’s actually you, the parent and them, because that’s how they respond to fear and what it means for parents of children with anxiety, it means that you are almost inevitably going to find yourself entangled in your child’s anxiety symptoms. It’s very hard to have a child with an anxiety problem and not be sucked in to responding to that anxiety problem through what we call accommodation.
Debbie Reber 22:26
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Can you talk more about accommodation, you know, maybe the primary reason why parents do accommodate and maybe some examples of what that looks like?
Eli Lebowitz 23:28
Absolutely. accommodation is almost universally present among parents of anxious children. And they say universally both because almost every parent who is asked tells us in study after study that they do accommodate their anxious child. And I also say universally, because that’s true across the world, not just in the US or even just in the Western world. But it’s true, really across the globe everywhere that we have studied this. And we have studied it in a lot of places. So what do we mean by accommodation? What I mean by accommodation is really all the different ways that a parent is changing their behavior, to help their child not feel anxious, and it’s the most natural thing in the world. If your child is worried, for example, maybe they have generalized anxiety. And that means they’re just chronically worried about different things. Well, they’re probably coming to you and asking you questions about their worries. They might be coming many times a day, even with questions about their worries. That’s their symptom. You are probably responding to those questions, you’re probably reassuring them, explaining to them for the 100th time that no, the fact that you use a cell phone doesn’t mean that you’re going to get cancer tomorrow. Or that the fact that you and your partner had an argument doesn’t mean that you’re getting divorced next week, or the fact that you can’t afford to buy x doesn’t mean that you’re going to lose your house and we’re all going to be homeless next week. Because those are the kinds of worries that a child might have. But you’re going to be accommodating by endlessly responding to those worries. Or maybe your child has separation anxiety. Well, it’s honestly hard to even have separation anxiety, without a lot of accommodation by a parent, you’re probably standing next to your child not leaving them alone, maybe sleeping next to them at night, for example, because they’re scared if they’re not next to you, or maybe your child has social anxiety, they’re uncomfortable speaking to different places. And so when, for example, the waiter walks over and asks your child what they’d like to eat, maybe you speak in place of them, because you know, it makes them anxious to answer for themselves, and that’s an accommodation. And so almost every parent who has an anxious child is going to be accommodating. And it’s going to be largely driven by two things. One is you don’t want to see your child in this dress. Again, it’s so natural, nobody likes to see their child suffering, or anxious or feeling panicky or really distressed. And it’s also going to be driven by the need to just get through the day. And that’s totally natural. Also, we all have to get to school, or to work or to sleep at the bed, right? Like we have to keep moving through the day. And when your child seems stuck, because of their anxiety, it’s very natural for you to step in and smooth it over through an accommodation like that. You don’t want to all be sitting here in silence, while the waiter waits uncomfortably for your child’s order and kind of looks at you like what am I supposed to do now? And so of course, you step in, and you give that answer. And so it is really so common and so easy to understand what, why it’s happening. But so much research into this area also teaches us really consistently, that even though accommodation is well intention, and even though it can be helpful for solving the problem in the moment, it actually is linked to more severe child anxiety over time, it doesn’t help your child get less anxious tomorrow, or next week or next year. And so it helps in that very short moment. But your child is actually likely to stay anxious over time, if you keep getting sucked into that accommodation trap again and again.
Debbie Reber 27:21
Yeah, I can see how it’s just a cycle. And I imagine it’s hard to get out of and, you know, you talk about that the most important thing for a child with anxiety to learn is that they can cope with it. And one of the things that I found so useful about your book is you spend a lot of time really walking parents through how to reduce accommodations, while increasing support. And there’s a lot of details that you have a whole section on planning. So can you talk a little bit about what it actually looks like, when a parent decides Okay, I, I’m bought into this, I don’t want to reinforce the anxiety. But we’ve been accommodating for years, how do I even begin to reduce those accommodations and step back?
Eli Lebowitz 28:08
Yeah, I mean, it’s a wonderful question, because it is a challenge. It’s not easy to just stop doing these accommodations. And number one, I could say to any parent who’s listening, if you have been doing a lot of accommodation, first of all, join the club and Don’t blame yourself. That just means that you’ve been trying to help your child, maybe it hasn’t proven helpful over time, maybe it’s not the right solution. But it’s not a crime, either. It’s you’re trying to help your child it means you see what’s hard for them, and you’ve been trying to do things to make it easier for them. And that just means that you care about them. So number one is Don’t blame yourself if you have been doing it. I don’t blame any parents who has done accommodation. I am the father of three wonderful boys, but also sometimes really anxious boys. And I’ve done accommodation. Also, when faced with anxiety, even though I’m literally the person who wrote the book. And so I don’t blame any parents for that. And number two, don’t try to just stop all your accommodations at once. It’s impossible, you won’t be able to and even if you could, it would probably be pretty overwhelming for your child. And so my advice isn’t just let’s think about all the accommodations that you do. And then just stop all of them overnight cold turkey never do an accommodation. Again, it’s not a realistic goal. And it doesn’t really and it wouldn’t really be that helpful for your time either. So we take a much more gradual and systematic approach, starting with just mapping out, how are you accommodating, maybe you’re not even aware of all the different ways that you’re accommodating. So becoming aware is step one. I try in the book to give really clear guidance on how you can notice those accommodations. And then think about what would be a good place to start. Let’s pick something That happens pretty frequently. So you’ll have plenty of opportunity to practice, let’s pick something that’s really under your control that you can decide to make a change in. And it’s not going to be contingent on anyone else. And I give some other suggestions for picking a good target, and then make a really clear plan. Don’t just say, okay, from now on that accommodation is out, but think it through in detail, how much are you going to change that? Are you never going to do that accommodation? Are you just going to limit it? Maybe? So for example, to take the example of the answer in your child’s questions, maybe you could say, I’m going to answer but I’m only going to answer five questions a day, and then I won’t anymore, where if you take the example of the child who doesn’t want to order at the restaurant, you might say, Look, I’m not gonna not order for you, but I’m not gonna order dessert for you to start, so that I know that you’re still gonna have your meal. And if you do miss that dessert, okay, we’ll try again the next time, and never make it about forcing your child to change. Right, this is coming back to what I said earlier, just about you. So your plan shouldn’t say you from now on you order for yourself, it should say From now on, I’m not going to order for you. And I don’t know what you’re going to do. And we’ll see. And if it doesn’t go easy for you the first time and we’ll try again the next time until you make a really clear plan with how much are you going to do this? And when exactly and what supports Do you need in order to be successful? Is there anybody else who can help? So really thinking through the plan in detail. And then another really important step is letting your child know about the plan in advance, we don’t want to take them by surprise. And we also don’t want them to be wondering, wait, why is mom or dad? Why are they doing this differently? We want them to know. And so in the book, I describe exactly how you can let your child know in a really supportive way, the details of your plan and why you’re doing it. And then you start putting it into practice, into action. And you still continue to troubleshoot it. But if you follow that kind of a clear, detailed plan, you’re likely to have a lot more success, and hopefully a much less anxious child’s and,
Debbie Reber 32:09
Yeah, it feels very doable. The way and thank you for walking us through that though. The way you presented in the book, you’ve got again, lots of examples, it feels doable, you explain what to do, I love that you include how to tell the child and how important that is, and how respectful it is to fill your child in on the plan. I imagine and you aren’t talking about this in your book, that there are kids who are going to get really angry when you stop accommodating them. And you actually, especially for my listeners who have neurodivergent kids who may already know if they have ADHD or other things, they may already kind of be more intense than some other kids or less emotional regulation strategies. So you talk about what you do. If a child gets violent or really angry with you, you kind of present how to hold the space. Any words of wisdom or guidance you can share for parents who are afraid of that backlash?
Eli Lebowitz 33:09
Sure, yeah. I mean, if you’re a little concerned that your child may be angry, when you don’t accommodate you’re not crazy. It turns out to absolutely nobody is surprised that when parents do stop accommodating, or they start reducing the accommodation, children don’t always thank them right away for this. Yeah. And this is true of so many other things in parenting as well, we can’t always make the popular decisions, when we’re parents, sometimes we have to do the thing that we know is going to be the most helpful for this child over time, rather than the thing that is going to make them most happy in the in the moment. And so we brace for that a little bit. But I would also say a couple of additional things. Number one is try to remember in that moment, when your child is lashing out when they are yelling or even becoming physically aggressive. Try to remember that what you’re seeing is then being anxious. It’s not suddenly they’ve turned into a monster or suddenly your child is going to now have like this behavior behavior problem as well as their anxiety. So you’ve only made things worse, or, you know, some negative part of their character is coming out. This is their anxiety. It goes back to what I said earlier about anxiety can manifest in different ways. Everybody knows the phrase fight or flight. But it’s so easy to forget that half of that is actually fight. And what that means is that anxiety can manifest as fear, but it can also manifest as anger. And if you are doing something that feels really hard for your child right now, it’s natural for them to lash out because they’re scared, they’re anxious. And yes, they will be able to handle it, they will overcome that anxiety. But right now in the short term, it’s natural that they would also express the anxiety. And so just remembering that what we’re seeing is anxiety can help to stay a little bit calmer. And then, you know, ask yourself, is what I’m seeing in terms of their behavior? How serious is it? Is it something that I could actually maybe just choose to ignore? Even if it’s a little unpleasant, for example, if your child is raising their voice, or slamming a door, or yelling, or even maybe throwing something across the room, but not in a dangerous way, you know, the best thing you might do is just ignore that. And one of the really important aspects of focusing on changing only your own behavior is that it actually makes it possible to ignore other things. Right? If you had come to your child and said, I need you to do this thing, and they got angry, you wouldn’t be able to walk away, because if you walk away, you’ve given up on your goal. But because you’re not asking your child to do anything, you’re just letting them know that you’re changing your behavior. Even if they are angry, you can walk away, you can ignore that. And they’ll calm down because you’re not asking them to do anything. So you’re not losing anything by not addressing it. And if it is crossing that line, and it’s not really an ignorable behavior. Now, maybe this is, maybe it’s even a dangerous behavior or a physically painful thing that they’re doing, or maybe they’re breaking something really valuable in your house. Well, in those situations, we still want to stay calm. In the moment when it’s happening, we don’t want to lash out and retaliate or raise your voice, those things are not useful. But what you can do is get some help from other people. And that can be incredibly powerful, both in preventing it from happening. And in preventing it from recurring. If it did happen, for example, have one or two of your relatives over to the house, the next time that you’re implementing your plan, have a grandparent there, or an uncle or a neighbor around. And you’ll see that it’s a lot less likely that your child will lash out to such an extreme level, if it’s not just you and them because we’re all a little bit more inhibited, when other people are around. And I go into these tools in a lot more detail in the book. But I think, you know, just having that sense of I don’t need to go this alone can already make it a lot easier.
Debbie Reber 37:28
Yeah, it’s so helpful. And again, just so empowering for parents, it really felt optimistic. And, again, doable. So any last thoughts before we say goodbye? A last thought — if you if there’s a parent listening to this, who’s got an anxious child, something that they could think about today? Or that you’d want to make sure that they know?
Eli Lebowitz 37:54
Yeah, actually, there is one important thing that I would add to any parent who’s dealing with anxiety in their, in their child. And that is that alongside reducing the accommodation, which we’ve talked about a lot, the other really important element of space is actually learning to be to increase support, meaning to be to be more supportive of your anxious child. And when we talk about supporting the space, we really mean showing your child a combination of two things, showing your child, first of all, acceptance, just validating what they’re feeling. And it can be as simple as saying to your child, something like I get it, this is really hard for you. And then combining that validation with a message of confidence, showing your child and telling them that you believe they can handle feeling anxious some of the time. You mentioned before, that the biggest goal in treating a child with anxiety or raising a child with anxiety is for them to learn that they can actually handle feeling anxious some of the time. And you can show them that as a parent through that supportive message by saying things like, I get it that this is really hard for you. And I believe that you can handle it, that you can be anxious some of the time and still be okay. And I think that learning to make those supportive messages is just as important as learning to reduce the accommodation, and actually makes the reduction in accommodation easier for that child. So if there’s one thing I would leave parents with is learn to make those supportive messages. Just remember those two ingredients, acceptance and confidence and you put them together, you’re going to be a supportive parent, for your child and that’s going to make a world of difference.
Debbie Reber 39:48
That’s great. And one of the things that you say is that our kids don’t need to feel ready. They have to be ready and I thought that was such a great way to say it because mo And we’re gonna have our feelings, right? But our feelings aren’t always accurate. Exactly, yeah. Well, this has been such a fascinating conversation. Again, listeners, I will have links to the book in the show notes pages, are there any other resources that you would recommend listeners check out or I don’t know, if you’re active on social media?
Eli Lebowitz 40:21
So, two things, two things I would point to one is the space website. And that is space treatment, that net, I would definitely in addition to the book, I would definitely encourage parents and providers who are hearing this and want to learn more about space. To check out that website, there’s a ton of resources there, including links to books and articles, both kind of popular articles, as well as research, videos and audio. There’s a list of space providers, therapists who are trained in this method and can work with your child, and lots of other information. There’s a forum for parents and a forum for professionals, I would definitely check that out. And then well, I personally am not really active on social media. SPACE is on Facebook. And anyone who’s interested in following that, it’s a good way to kind of stay up to date on new things relating to space, or just things that I thought would be of interest to anyone who’s interested in this treatment. So you can follow that. It’s space treatments on Facebook. So it’s like Facebook/spacetreatments.
Debbie Reber 41:30
Perfect. Well, again, listeners, I’ll have links to that in the show notes page. Again, the book is Breaking Free of Child Anxiety and OCD: A Scientifically Proven Program for Parents just came out in January, I believe. wonderful book. And Eli, thank you so much for taking so much time and sharing all this with us today. Well, thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure. You’ve been listening to the tilde parenting podcast, you can find links to all the resources my guests and I discussed on the detailed show notes page. Just go to tilde parenting comm slash podcast and select this episode. If you love this podcast and want to help cover the cost of its production, please consider joining my Patreon campaign. For as little as $2 a month you can help cover the cost of the hosting platform, editing, production and more. Just go to patreon.com/tiltparenting to learn more. Lastly, please help this podcast stay visible and easily found by subscribing and leaving a rating or review on Apple podcasts. Thanks so much for considering. And that’s all for this week. Stay safe, stay well and take good care and for more information on Tilt Parenting, visit www.tiltparenting.com
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