Child Psychologists in our Virginia and Washington, DC offices are offering a new, parent-based treatment to address child and adolescent anxiety. This novel approach was developed at the Yale Child Study Center by Dr. Eli Lebowitz, and is a systematic program that teaches parents how to supportively and appropriately respond to their child’s anxiety through changes in their own behaviors.  By reducing an ‘accommodating’ approach to a child’s anxiety, parents are able to engage in a manner that ultimately enhances the child’s ability to cope with anxious thoughts and feelings.

What is SPACE?

SPACE (Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions) is an evidence-based, treatment approach designed for parents of children and adolescents who struggle with anxiety or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This structured, 7-week program teaches parents how to change their own behavior so that they can best support and respond to their child’s anxiety. SPACE trains parents to calmly accept a child’s distress, a while avoiding reactions that exacerbate symptoms.

How is the program structured?

This virtual group is led by Ross Center child psychologists who have been specially trained in the SPACE methodology. SPACE is a systematic approach that begins by acknowledging the interpersonal nature of child/adolescent anxiety and how this can impact parenting styles. It then focuses on small but meaningful adjustments that parents can make in HOW they respond to their children’s anxiety. One key component to the SPACE approach is identifying areas where parents may be accommodating their children’s anxiety and working towards removing these accommodations in a stepwise and thoughtful way.

How does the program work if children aren’t involved?

Because of the interpersonal nature of childhood anxiety, parents are in a unique position of being able to communicate sentiments of acceptance and confidence (which we in SPACE refer to as statements of SUPPORT) that indirectly shape how children approach their worries and fears. In other words, parents can shape the environment in which children process and navigate their anxiety.

What types of anxiety is the SPACE program best for?

SPACE has been found, through randomized clinical trials conducted by Dr. Lebowitz at the Yale Child Study Center, to be efficacious in treating anxiety problems such as separation anxiety, social anxiety, generalized anxiety, fears and phobias, panic disorder or agoraphobia, selective mutism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

However, SPACE is also helpful for parents of children without a diagnosable “disorder”, or for kids with chronic worries and fears. For these families, SPACE offers parents the tools to help prevent anxiety issues from becoming bigger concerns as the child gets older.

What is an ‘accomodation’?

The word accommodation has several meanings. In SPACE, we refer to accommodations as those actions or adjustments that children request (or at times demand) that their parents make in order to reduce their anxiety. Accomodations can actually reinforce and increase the anxiety long-term, so we work on reducing accommodating behaviors by the parents.  Accomodations may include things that parents are both doing and not doing because of their anxious kids, including

  • When a child expects a parent to lie in bed with them at nighttime until they fall asleep.
  • A child with OCD asking parents to repeatedly check food expiration dates and provide reassurance that food is not expired.
  • For an older child with social anxiety, expecting a parent to order for the child at restaurants.
  • Avoiding taking the child to places with potential triggers such as a zoo , birthday party, park, or restaurant.
  • Asking the parent to make a doctor’s appointment every time a teen with health anxiety is concerned about having a headache.
  • Leaving home or work early to pick up a child from school due to symptoms of panic or repeatedly feeling sick.

What is the advantage of delivering SPACE in a group?

Often times, families navigating a child’s anxious symptoms can feel alone and stuck in their battle to best support their child. Working through the systematic SPACE approach alongside other families can be validating, and normalize the challenge of supporting children with anxiety while also learning parenting strategies that reduce the stressors of daily life.

What can parents expect to gain by the end of the 7 weeks?

At The Ross Center, we focus on laying the groundwork for understanding how parental communication and accommodation can influence a child’s anxiety.  We teach you to adapt your own accommodating behaviors towards your child’s rituals and anxious routines so you can engage in a manner that ultimately enhances the child’s ability to cope with anxious thoughts and feelings. This includes incorporating supportive statements in a parent’s response.  You’ll learn that instead of helping your child avoid anxiety-provoking situations, you can respond in a way that encourages confronting their fears. We then work to identify areas of parental accommodation that families want to reduce, and identify a stepwise approach to doing so.  You can expect to:

  • gain confidence in parenting your anxious child
  • develop the tools to effectively address your child’s anxiety
  • reduce some of your own accommodating behaviors
  • enhance your child’s ability to cope with anxious thoughts and feelings

How can I be sure that the SPACE program is the right choice for my family?

As part of our intake process, we schedule families for a 30-minute orientation to further discuss each family’s specific needs and goals to determine whether the SPACE program is a good fit. We prioritize personalized care, and will work collaboratively with you to ensure that the group’s goals align with your own.

To learn more about SPACE treatment, you can watch this interview with Dr. Lebowitz or view his TED TALK.

Read about how one of our child psychologists, Dr. Stacy Coyle, applies SPACE principals in helping her own children face anxiety HERE.

If you’re interested in scheduling an appointment with one of our SPACE trained therapists, please call  Virginia office.

We are offering 7-week (virtual) SPACE groups for parents of anxious children in Kindergarten through High School. LEARN MORE here.

The SPACE group is open to residents of Virginia, Maryland, Washington, DC, and any of the 39 states where psypact has been enacted. Psypact is a program that allows licensed therapists to practice virtually in approved states. Click here to see whether your state is included in the list of eligible states.

Therapists who Offer SPACE Treatment for Parents:

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