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Anxiety & Panic Disorders Health Center

Kids Afraid of Life

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Getting Help continued...

But the standard treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy, geared to the child's age. The use of puppets, for example, can help children change the way they think about things and how they talk to themselves. Kids are also taught relaxation techniques to use in situations that make them uncomfortable.

"Through treatment, the kids can learn that the horrible things they fear won't happen," says Beidel.

Beidel is currently conducting a four-year study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, comparing behavior therapy, Prozac, and placebo in youngsters aged 8-16. Part of the behavioral component consists of a program in which children in the trial meet with "peer helpers," for an hour and a half at a time, in a social situation.

"This is a chance for the kids with social phobia to mix with the kids who usually ignore them in a setting they usually don't go to," says Beidel. "It gives them the opportunity to practice the skills they have been learning."

While it's important to get help as early as possible, the good news is that studies indicate that treatment is effective and need not go on for an unlimited length of time, says Markway. "Short-term [six to 12 weeks perhaps, although it does depend on the severity of the disorder] usually works," he says. "You're not looking at years and years of therapy."

If you suspect your child suffers from social anxiety or social phobia, look for a mental health professional who specializes in the behavioral treatment of children, says Beidel.

For more information on the condition, these sources may be of help:

  • Association for Advancement of Behavior
  • Therapy Anxiety Disorders Association of America
  • Maryland Center for Anxiety Disorders

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