Developed by Eli Lebowitz at the Yale Child Study Center, SPACE (Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions) is an evidence-based, parent-based treatment program for children and adolescents with anxiety, OCD, and related problems. Parents meet with a SPACE-trained clinician to learn how to help their children by changing their behavior. 

How Come the Program is Focused on Parents?

Individual or group therapy for anxiety in children and adolescents can be highly effective. SPACE treatment offers an alternative approach, which a therapist can provide alongside child therapy or on its own.   

Has your child demonstrated resistance to treatment or to your attempts to help them decrease their avoidance behaviors? Do they melt down when you ask them to engage in an activity that they find anxiety-provoking? SPACE treatment places no demands on the child but focuses on ways that you, the caregiver, can help reduce your child’s anxiety by changing your behaviors. This approach does NOT presume that parents are the problem. It does, however, propose that parents can be an essential part of the solution! To better understand how parents may help, let’s look at the anxiety and accommodation cycle according to SPACE:

While anxiety is a healthy emotion that alerts people to danger, an anxiety disorder exists when anxiety is exaggerated.  When children face a real or perceived threat, their Fight or Flight, an automatic physiological reaction, is activated. Because young children cannot independently cope with dangers, they signal their caregivers that they are distressed. They may cry, yell, or tantrum to avoid the stressful situation. In response, parents and caregivers who pick up those stress signals soothe their children, which makes anxiety in children an interpersonal event. Here’s the good news: Changing how you respond to your child can help them overcome their anxiety. 

What Happens in SPACE?

SPACE treatment helps parents focus on two types of behavior changes:

  1. Increasing support: You will learn to respond supportively to your anxious child by showing them acceptance and confidence in their ability to handle their feelings. Your SPACE treatment-trained clinician will help you to identify supportive statements that convey to your child that you understand that something is genuinely hard for them (even if it may appear irrational or exaggerated). You are confident they can handle the stress and cope with complicated feelings. 
  2. Decreasing Accommodation: Accommodation refers to any action you may take (or not do) because of your child’s anxiety. If your child or adolescent displays fear, you can probably think of changes you have made in your behavior in response. Maybe you speak for your child when the waiter takes your order because your child feels nervous in social situations, Or perhaps you provide reassurance to your child only to find out they return with more (or the same) questions. You may not remember the last time you and your partner had a date night because your child is anxious about staying home with a babysitter. You are not alone if you recognize yourself in any of those examples. Research shows that parents’ accommodation to children’s anxiety is widespread. Unfortunately, while accommodations may offer short-term relief to both child and caregiver, it reinforces and exacerbates the tension and may disrupt family functioning. 

SPACE treatment aims to help you by breaking the cycle of anxiety. Increasing support and decreasing accommodations will help your child AVOID THEIR AVOIDANCE and learn how to self-regulate independently. Your SPACE treatment-trained clinician will help you to:

  • Understand your child’ or adolescent’s anxiety and avoidance behaviors
  • Identify your accommodation responses to your child’s or adolescent’s anxiety
  • Choose behavioral targets to remove unhelpful accommodations 
  • Write a supportive, clear letter to your child informing them of changes in your behaviors
  • Make, implement, and troubleshoot a plan
  • Provide you with tools for coping with your child’s reactions to your behavioral changes 
  • Provide support and assess progress 

Who Can Benefit from SPACE?

SPACE can treat various anxiety disorders in children and adolescents, including Generalized Anxiety, Separation Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Selective Mutism, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Panic Disorder.

Does your child exhibit any of these behaviors:

  • Clings to you and refuses to speak in social situations
  • Is afraid to fall or stay asleep in their bed at night
  • Asks the same question over and over again in an attempt to seek reassurance and certainty
  • Exhibits irrational fears or repetitive behaviors
  • Avoids certain places or situations 

Do you wish to:

  • Help your child become more independent
  • Help your child transition between activities more smoothly
  • Reduce unhelpful, stressful rituals
  • Expand your child’s and family’s activities and social engagements
  • Reclaim your bedroom

If you have answered yes to any of the above, then SPACE treatment could help you break the anxiety cycle and regain control of your family life!

-Posted by Yasmin Meyers


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