MOUNT VERNON – Anxiety in children manifests in several forms, including separation anxiety, phobias, social anxiety, general anxiety and panic disorder. Symptoms include poor sleep patterns, stomachaches and interference with school, home or play activities. Young children with anxiety often go undiagnosed for years.
Knox County has recently become a national trailblazer in parenting education as the first U.S. county to offer Triple P Fear-Less, a program aimed at supporting and offering strategies for families with children experiencing anxiety.
“At this point, there are 20 trained providers in Australia, 20 in the U.K., 200 in Canada and, with us, three in Knox County,” Knox Parent Support Initiative Coordinator Susan McDonald said.
“We are incredibly excited to bring this level of Triple P (Positive Parenting Program) to Knox County," McDonald continued. “Helping children and teens, and their parents, gain new skills for coping with anxiety was already a need in our community. With the last year and half of pandemic concerns, and now re-entering social situations, it is even more timely that we are able to offer this kind of family support.”
Halle Krajenski, a Triple P practitioner in Knox County, is looking forward to sharing the program with the community soon.
“The average age of a first-time (anxiety) diagnosis is 11, so we know it affects kids—and even earlier than 11. This program is really helpful for kids as young as 6,” Krajenski said.
According to Krajenski, the gold standard for anxiety treatment in the U.S. is cognitive-behavioral therapy, but the readmission rate for children who receive this type of therapy is over 50 percent. In contrast, Fear-Less is a cognitive-behavioral parenting intervention that supports parents helping their children manage anxiety more effectively.
“The benefit of it is, by teaching the parents to use these tools, a child is getting 24/7 practice in working with and coping with anxiety versus that one time, one hour a week,” Krajenski said.
“Everything Triple P does is evidence-based, so they've put many years of research into this, and what they have found is that by using this program with the parents directly, 84 percent of children were completely free of an anxiety diagnosis after utilizing the program for a 12-month period of time, showing it's monumental,” she continued.
One strategy the program teaches to combat anxiety is called the “fear ladder.” This involves looking at a task that is scary or intimidating to a child and breaking it down into smaller, more manageable steps.
For example, a child who experiences anxiety in large crowds might fear the Knox County Fair. Instead of going directly into an anxiety-inducing environment, parents can start with taking the child to a park on a weekday. One that becomes comfortable, a trip to the park on the weekend could follow, continually adding steps until the child can complete the original task.
“We have to expose ourselves and navigate the fear instead of avoiding it. One of the sessions in this program is talking about avoidance, because we'd like to avoid things that are uncomfortable,” Krajenski said. “He might be in a situation later where he has to be in a crowd, so we work through avoidance in order to kind of conquer those fears and teach kids how to be resilient.”
Michelle Mann, a Centerburg School social worker, is excited for the new program to roll out and believes it will help many of the students she works with to handle symptoms of various types of anxiety.
“Within the last few years, anxiety has become so much more prevalent in our society, with children and, of course, with adults as well,” Mann said. “I'm hoping this can help parents understand the different types of anxieties and how to help their kids with these anxieties and get support from other parents while they're doing that.”
Mann noted some degree of anxiety and worry is completely normal in young children, but parents still need effective tools to deal with those issues. Her daughter went through separation anxiety in kindergarten, and her granddaughter experienced the same thing.
“I'm hoping that parents will feel less stigmatized by what their child's going through by getting the support and from hearing from those leading it that we can do this; we can deal with this; we can help you, and you can help your child,” Mann said.
The first Triple P Fear-Less 6-week group is scheduled to begin (on Zoom) Thursday, June 24 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Register at www.triplep-parenting.com/knox. Triple P is free for all Knox County parents and caregivers! Fear-Less can be offered in six individual sessions, six group sessions or a one-day intensive workshop. For more information about scheduling free Fear-Less sessions for parents in your organization or business contact Susan McDonald at 740-397-2840 or firstname.lastname@example.org. A special thank you to our dedicated funders, Ariel Foundation and United Way of Knox of Knox County.