“While it’s not the same as good psychotherapy, don’t underestimate the power of the basics,” she told me. “Make sure your child gets enough sleep, gets enough physical activity and eats a balanced diet. If possible, keep them busy with meaningful activities. These things go deeper than we sometimes expect.
There are resources you can use at home, books and online programs that can help your family. The most recommended online resources are often rooted in Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)which “usually involves efforts to change thought patterns,” according to APA Patricia Frazier, a distinguished psychology professor at the University of Minnesota, has, along with her colleagues, studied the effects of Internet-delivered CBT programs (ICBT) on university students, and found them to be “achievable, acceptable and effective”.
These ICBT programs tend to be a combination of text, video, and exercises that help explain the roots of anxiety, then encourage users to identify what may be triggering overwhelming feelings, then offer exercises to help deal with those feelings. For instance, the free MindShift app CBT, from the non-profit organization Anxiety Canada, lets you record your daily feelings and then write a short journal entry about why you’re feeling. You can also list any symptoms you might be experiencing, such as racing thoughts, chest tightness, or nausea. It gives you a series of tools to use, like a guided audio for calm breathing or an anxiety test, or “coping cards” that provide affirmations like “Learn to sit with some uncertainty m ‘will help me worry less’.
Frazier told me that the body of research on the effectiveness of ICBT programs is “incredibly strong.” She told me this 2019 review in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, which concluded that “ICBT works and can be as effective as face-to-face therapy”. But it should be noted that these studies were conducted on adults, not children or adolescents, and many of them had a trained professional to help run the ICBT programs.
Patrick McGrath, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia who studied the effectiveness of ICBT in adolescents, told me that parents looking for reliable resources should start with the websites of children’s hospitals and professional organizations. He recommended Magination Press Children’s Books from the American Psychological Association, as well as the “CBT Toolbox” series of books. As for online resources, he said he refers people to MAP, or My Anxiety Plan, also from Anxiety Canada, which offers a multi-part online course for teens.
McGrath mentioned CopeChatwhich includes an online resource called Camp Cope-A-Lot. This is an animated program that helps teach parents and children ages 7-13 CBT skills and was developed by Khanna and Philip Kendall, Professor of Psychology at Temple University. She told me that she views the program as a learning resource, not necessarily a therapeutic resource. The CBT skills she teaches in talk therapy, like identifying anxiety triggers and using tools like journaling and breathing, “are learnable concepts, and therapists are just better and better trained to teach the concepts,” she said.