Words to Say and Things to Do
by Kathleen Trainor, PsyD
My kids have anxiety (in different ways, and only one of them is actually diagnosed). I think I probably do to some extent as well- as it seems to run in the family. I picked up this book just wanting to learn more about what\’s appropriate or helpful to say in certain situations. I was honestly surprised at how relevant, practical and comprehensive this book is. It all feels very familiar. Either I have seen some of the behaviors the author describes, in those around me (not just family but also acquaintances and other people I\’ve known) or recognize them in myself. Lots of people probably have a little bit of anxiety, OCD, avoidance tendencies etc, it\’s not really a problem until it becomes overwhelming and interferes with everyday life, as the author points out.
Well, the author works a lot with children. She uses a particular method of cognitive behavior therapy that is very structured. The steps are to recognize problematic thoughts and behaviors caused by anxiety, rate their level of difficulty (in overcoming), map out strategies for improvement, come up with positive thoughts to replace negative ones, decide on a reward system, and track progress. It\’s very much centered on getting kids involved in their own treatment, letting them feel they\’re in control of changing how they think and feel. The examples- all from real patient cases- sounded like problems I have seen many people face (or heard about). Some I really wondered how the method would work, in particular with an older kid who was resentful at even being in the therapist\’s office and didn\’t see anything wrong with his life- but in the end it did.
There are, in this book, kids who won\’t sleep on their own, worry constantly about their health, stress to the point of illness over schoolwork, feel a compulsive need to be clean, avoid all outside situations (preferring to play computer games literally all day), pull out their own hair, have specific phobias, and more. And we\’re talking to the point of disrupting the entire family life- the girl who was afraid of dogs, for example, got so terrified she would not play outside for fear of encountering a dog in the neighborhood, or go to any friend\’s house if they had a dog. There was a kid so petrified of bugs he would run screaming from the house to his car whenever he had to go somewhere. A very small child with a severe phobia of water after suffering a burn from boiling hot water that spilled on her, would have panic attacks if even a drop landed on her arm. She couldn\’t take a bath, walk outside when it was raining, go swimming, etc. Some of the situations looked very simple on the surface until the therapist started helping them examine things, others looked very complicated and confusing until they sat down and figured out the root cause. (The beginning of the book explains the biological causes of anxiety, how the brain works in terms of fear response, and how culture or family situations can sometimes add to it). There was also a section about helping kids overcome PTSD caused by traumatic situations, which was a bit hard to read, but very eye-opening.
I thought at first this book would be boring or clinical, but in fact it was interesting and I felt like I learned a ton. Not that I would implement a program based on what I read alone, but it sure did make me aware of how things can be dealt with, especially how kids can literally train their brains to think/feel differently, and to have more compassion for people who struggle with certain aspects of anxiety.
Borrowed from the public library.
Rating: 4/5 249 pages, 2016
My sister-in-law could have used a book like this when her kids were young.