Why we work with parents

Why we work with parents

Why supporting parents (and not sending children to therapy) can sometimes be the key in overcoming child anxiety?

Written by Dr Jenny Draisey

Are you currently worried about your child and feel anxious about their future? Do you sometimes struggle to know how to best support your child when facing their fears and anxieties? Do you feel like you keep getting it wrong and just want to know how to talk to your child better about their emotions, or feel overwhelmed by the task of parenting.? If so, you are not alone. I am a Clinical Psychologist and I work in a busy private practice in Guildford, and these are the types of conversations and questions that I try to help parents to navigate time and time again. And I believe that teaching parents some basic tools to help children to develop emotional resilience, early in life, could be transformative.

Here are the top 5 reasons why I believe working directly with parents, as opposed to seeing children for individual therapy, could be the key in tackling the mental health crisis that our children are currently facing.

1. Anxiety and panic doesn’t tend to manifest itself in the therapy room. In fact, very rarely have I experienced first-hand a child’s real reaction to stress and anxiety while sitting in a therapy room. I have spent lots of hours with children talking about the hypothetical scenarios in which their anxiety is triggered and manifests itself, and planning out with them how they might cope in these situations, but I’m never around to truly support the children when they need it most, like when their parents are dropping them off at a party that they are terrified to go to, or when their worries are overwhelming them at 12pm at night when everyone really needs to get some sleep. I believe that teaching parents the knowledge and skills to know how to support their children to manage and cope with anxiety when it is happening in the moment, and reinforcing this with support, love and consistency over time can be truly beneficial. It can also help to empower parents to build their own confidence in their parenting skills, knowing that what they are doing is in their child’s best interests.

2. Children love routine – and individual therapy can often interrupt this. I run a private practice in school hours– this means if young people want to see me, they inevitably have to come out of school to attend my sessions. This can often create more anxiety for the young person as they are having to explain to their friends where they are going every Tuesday at 11am, or they are having to catch up on work that they have missed because of their weekly schlep to the therapy room. Working directly with parents immediately stops this from happening and can enable a young person to not only receive the support they most likely need, but they can do so in the absence of any disruption to their daily lives.

3. Talking to a stranger and building up relationships with children can take time. I can spend weeks and sometimes even months building up a relationship with a young person, before we even contemplate doing anything therapy related. That’s because trust takes time, and time is what I always give it because without trust in therapy, implementing change would be difficult, if not impossible! But who do children often trust the most – their parents! So working with parents can enable us to begin working on any problems or difficulties immediately, without your child having to spend lots of time in the therapy room building up trust with a complete stranger.

4. Children often don’t see their anxiety as a problem, so why would they do anything to change it? Parents have often tried to persuade me to see their children, despite the child’s obvious resistance and disdain, in the belief that if the child ‘just talks to a professional’ they will realise that they need to change their thoughts or behaviour. However, the thing that ultimately tends to keep anxiety going is an avoidance of the things that make you feel scared, and for children, this is a great survival technique because as long as they avoid the scary things, they won’t be scared and will feel okay, right? Well wrong, obviously! But children don’t know that, and that message takes time to sink in. Often, a child’s anxiety isn’t so much a problem for the child, but a problem for us as parents. We need to be able to get them to school on time in the morning, or get them to bed at a reasonable hour at night. We know it is good for them to build relationships and try new things to develop confidence because we’ve lived for long enough to see the impact for ourselves, but again this can sometimes be completely foreign to children, especially younger children, as they can feel safe and secure at home, not realising the impact that their anxiety and ultimately avoidance of life can have on their longer term well-being and prospects. Working with parents, who really know their children and know what will work as a reward or incentive for brave behaviour, often has a much greater effect on creating change than working with a child who doesn’t see anything wrong with avoiding the scary world around them. So again, parents can be key in implementing brave behaviours and managing situations where a child’s anxiety is prevalent and debilitating.

5. Children’s anxiety can build up over time. And often by the time parents seek help, the problem is much greater than it would have been if some simple steps had been taken earlier on. I will often meet with parents for the ‘little niggles’, the ‘it isn’t really a problem but we are worried it will develop into one’ conversations, where parents will apologise to me for wasting my time. Please never apologise for wanting the best for your children. The point in time where ‘it’s not a big deal but it does seem to be getting a little bit worse’ is the best time ever to seek support. This is the point where you can help children to learn how to recognise their emotions, how to label them, how to notice what might trigger their different feelings, and ultimately learn how to cope with negative feelings and build wonderful skills in emotional resilience. So I am talking to all the parents who are worried about their child’s future, but where it isn’t a major problem now – getting support now and putting some simple strategies into place will no doubt change the course of your child’s life and help them to be emotionally resilient, be brave and face their fears, and ultimately become confident and contented adults. So don’t delay and do something about it today! You never know, it might even teach you something about your own emotions!

Get in touch with Dr Jenny Draisey on jen@drjen-psychology.co.uk to book your initial parent support session today!

Dr Jenny Draisey

Clinical Psychologist
Dr Jenny Draisey is a Clinical Psychologist based around Guildford, Surrey who works with children and young people (aged 5-18) and their families. She specialises in assessing and treating young people presenting with a range of mental health difficulties specifically anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression sleep difficulties, and anger and oppositional difficulties. Jenny believes that young people’s mental health difficulties require a holistic and systemic approach. This approach analyses and treats not only the person themselves but the system and environment that surrounds that person.

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