Overcoming Anxiety in Children & Teens – Jed Baker

In Overcoming Anxiety in Children & Teens, Jed Baker both outlines theory and provides practical advice for parents with anxious kids. The aim of treatment is realistic in that it doesn’t promise to eradicate anxiety completely as we all experience anxiety at times. The goal is to help the child/teen no longer be controlled by it.

Baker differentiates between true alarms and false alarms. True alarms are when someone is actually in danger. When someone experiences false alarms, reacting with anxiety over events that present no actual danger, gradual exposure therapy can reduce their anxiety. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) aims to assist the individual to manage their fears by challenging their thoughts rather than allowing thoughts and emotions to rule their behaviour.

Touching on medications that may assist in the management of anxiety as well as their side effects but recommending they be used after trying other tools first, the author also outlines non-pharmacological alternatives such as exercise, meditation, mindfulness and neurofeedback. I’m not sure how I’d react as a parent being told in a book about anxiety that one of the possible side effects of medication use for my child is problems with their sexual performance. 😂

Baker describes his approach to making therapy less threatening to young people by initially focusing on their strengths while also addressing challenges (things that can prevent someone from reaching their goals) and the importance of taking into account other areas of a person’s life that may be contributing to their anxiety levels. Information is also given about how fear ladders can work to assist a child to gradually face their fears from least to greatest.

Intrinsic and extrinsic rewards for climbing the fear ladder steps were outlined. Personally I have some issues with a couple of the extrinsic rewards. Linking food rewards to preferred behaviour reminded me too much of Pavlov’s dogs and I wondered about the wisdom of rewarding children with junk food.

I can certainly see the benefit of rewarding them with time spent doing activities they enjoy but I baulked at the idea of paying kids for taking steps to overcome fear. Granted this is a different situation but it reminds me of a girl I played netball with whose father paid her $1 per goal she got each game. Naturally it made no difference to the girl if a teammate was in a better shooting position; she took every shot because she wanted her $1. We were kids in the 80’s and let me tell you that $1 was a lot of money to us at the time! Speaking of junk food, $1 could buy you 20 lollies of your choice in a white paper bag at the local shop.

I’m also not keen on 1 to 5 rating scales. This isn’t a specific problem with this book although it does use them but a pet peeve in general. My argument against these is twofold. People invariably will rate the same thing differently; what is an anxiety level of 2 out of 5 for one person, another may rate as 4 out of 5. Also, even an individual’s rating may not be consistent and could be affected by so many variables including whether or not they’ve had a good day, if they’re hungry or if they got enough sleep the night before.

Specific attention is given in this book to providing tools to manage fear for children who are less verbal, including those with autism. Chapters also provide case studies of the author’s work with children with specific anxieties – simple phobia, social anxiety, selective mutism, separation anxiety and school refusal, panic disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), somatic symptom disorder and/or illness anxiety disorder, Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), perfectionism and other common fears that don’t fall into disorders outlined in the DSM-5, including fear of others’ aggression and fear of unexpected changed in schedule or routine.

The case studies, whilst fairly repetitive in parts, would be useful for parents who could read the first section of the book and then focus on the chapter that specifically covers their child’s experience with anxiety. I would anticipate that by reading an outline of a child facing a similar situation and what steps were taken to reduce their anxiety, this would provide much needed hope to a parent that their child will be able to replicate this success.

Having studied anxiety disorders fairly extensively, this book didn’t break any new ground for me but I found its concepts were explained in an approachable way, steering clear of the scientific mumbo jumbo that can put off people who just want answers.

Quoting from other people’s studies and theories (along with plugging their own books several times) the author doesn’t appear to be claiming they’re coming up with a new model for treating anxiety in children but instead explaining existing models and showing parents how they can be applied by using case study examples. While the majority of the references cited throughout the book are ten or more years old, additional tools were also provided in the form of potentially useful websites and apps.

Time is spent explaining how to get the child on board but fails to provide any information regarding what a parent is supposed to do if their child refuses to cooperate with the treatment plan.

I wasn’t a fan of the photographs used in this book. They silently scream, “Dodgy clichéd stock images!” Personally I’d prefer no images over ones that make me roll my eyes. However, this isn’t a photography book so the images have no bearing on my rating.

I particularly liked the scripts that parents and teachers can use to guide children through relaxation, breathing techniques and mindfulness. I’ve read ones similar to these before but have never come across ones written specifically for use with children and found the explanations of the techniques well done.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Future Horizons for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The key to this book is that it outlines both the science and art of anxiety therapy. The science of overcoming anxiety is using the well researched approach called gradual exposure therapy which involves helping individuals gradually face their fears. The art of therapy is figuring out how to actually convince someone to face their fears. Jed describes motivational techniques, cognitive behavioral strategies, exercises, relaxation and mindfulness guides to lower anxiety to the point where individuals can begin to confront their fears. The book covers: simple phobias, social phobia, selective mutism, separation anxiety and school refusal, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, somatic symptom disorder and/or illness anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, perfectionism, and other common fears.

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