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Accommodating Anxiety: Helping or Hurting?

Family accommodation is when parents or loved ones make changes to their own behavior in order to help their child avoid or lessen feelings of anxiety. Understandably, most parents will do anything they can to minimize an anxious child’s distress. Although accommodations can reduce a child’s anxiety in the moment, accommodations maintain the child’s anxiety in the long-term. Are all accommodations detrimental? It is important to clarify that accommodations can be helpful when they are used to assist an individual with coping and are gradually eliminated over time as coping increases. Alternatively, accommodations that facilitate avoidance and interfere with coping are a hindrance.

Example accommodations:

  • Modifying routines, schedules, or expectations to alleviate symptoms of distress
  • Answering questions repeatedly or providing constant reassurance regarding anxiety provoking thoughts or fears
  • Avoiding going places that you know will trigger your child’s anxiety
  • Participating in anxious behavior such as checking the locks or appliances

Eliminating unhelpful accommodations requires a strategic, consistent approach.  The first step is to write down all of the accommodations you are aware of. Ask yourself if you are doing the behavior because of the individual’s anxiety. You should also ask yourself if the individual’s anxiety increases if you do not do the behavior. Be sure to document when and where the accommodations occur as well as their frequency. The next step is to create a plan for reducing and ultimately eliminating the accommodation. Dr. Racine will provide you with a structured plan for eliminating unhelpful family accommodations as well as tools to overcome potential pitfalls and barriers. This approach enables you to focus on what is solely within your control – your behavior.

Contact Dr. Racine today to learn more about evidence-based techniques for parenting anxious children.