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Dr. Eli LebowitzDr. Eli Lebowitz is a renowned expert in the field of childhood and adolescent anxiety and serves as the Director of the Program for Anxiety Disorders at the Yale Child Study Center. His expertise includes extensive research on the development, neurobiology, and treatment of anxiety and related disorders, with a focus on how generations and families influence these conditions.

Dr. Eli developed SPACE (Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions), a pioneering parent-based treatment program for childhood and adolescent anxiety. This method — proven effective in randomized controlled trials — shifts the focus from children to parents, helping them modify their behaviors to treat their children’s anxiety issues, including separation anxiety, social and generalized anxiety, fears, phobias, panic disorder, and OCD.

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 Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • How Dr. Eli Lebowitz entered the area of research and treatment for childhood anxiety
  • What makes childhood anxiety disorders different from adult anxiety?
  • Addressing childhood anxiety without blaming parents
  • The impact of children’s anxiety on families
  • How parents accommodate their children’s anxiety
  • The importance of changing parental behaviors instead of forcing children to engage in uncomfortable tasks
  • Common bedtime struggles for children with anxiety
  • A playful approach to help anxious children cope
  • Treating anxiety in children by reducing accommodating behaviors
  • The value of self-control in overcoming anxiety and OCD

In this episode…

Navigating childhood anxiety can be a daunting task for any parent, especially when facing inadequacy and guilt for failed treatments. How can you support your anxious child effectively without inadvertently reinforcing their fears and anxieties?

According to Dr. Eli Lebowitz, a specialist in childhood and adolescent anxiety, the key lies in understanding and adjusting parental behaviors toward this condition. Dr. Eli highlights the importance of reducing accommodations that may exacerbate a child’s anxiety, while providing supportive, confidence-building communication. When adopting this approach, rather than forcing your child to engage in distressing activities, recognize your accommodating behaviors to adjust your perspective.

In this episode of The Coping Podcast, Dr. Leigh Weisz and Dr. Jeremy Weisz are joined by Dr. Eli Lebowitz, Director of the Program for Anxiety Disorders at the Yale Child Study Center and creator of the SPACE treatment. They explore strategies for managing anxious children, tackling bedtime separation anxiety, and addressing parental disagreements in treatment. Tune in for insights and a “magic tip” for streamlining bedtime routines, essential for parents managing their child’s anxiety.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Coping Partners.

Coping Partners is a mental health practice dedicated to helping children, adolescents, and adults manage various challenges including anxiety, divorce, behavioral issues, relationship problems and much more in the Chicago suburbs.

Our practitioners are devoted to building on our clients’ strengths and bolstering weaknesses.

To gain insight and tools for getting unstuck check out our website at CopingPartners.com, email us at support@copingpartners.com.


Episode Transcript

Intro 0:01

Welcome to The Coping Podcast where we share strategies for coping with the stressors of life, especially the difficulties of parenting. And here is your host, Dr. Leigh Weisz.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz 0:15

Dr. Jeremy Weisz here, host of inspiredinsider.com, where I talk with inspirational leaders and founders.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 0:21

I am Dr. Leigh Weisz. I am the host of The Coping Podcast where I feature top experts on topics like raising healthy children, parenting and much more. Before we formally introduce you, Dr. Eli, we always like to mention past episodes of our podcast to check out on the coping podcast. I featured my colleague Ben Kessler in a fascinating episode we appropriately called technology addiction and kids and teens help. I also featured Dr. Michelle Cutler, where she answered questions about the July 4 mass shooting that occurred here in Highland Park. This episode is brought to you by Coping Partners. Coping Partners is a mental health practice in the Chicago suburbs dedicated to helping children, adolescents and adults. We help manage various challenges including anxiety, divorce, behavioral issues, relationship issues, and much more. Check out more episodes of our podcast and our website at copingpartners.com and you can contact us with any questions you have. Just a quick disclaimer, the information provided is for educational and informational purposes only. This is not intended to provide mental health treatment and does not constitute a client therapist relationship. The information provided is not a replacement for being assessed and evaluated by a licensed professional and is not intended to replace mental health or medical advice.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz 1:50

We are very excited to introduce Dr. Eli Lebowitz. He studies and treats childhood and adolescent anxiety at the Yale Child Study Center, he developed a methodology called SPACE. And SPACE stands for Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 2:08

Unlike many of the traditional treatments for childhood anxiety, SPACE is a parent based treatment program that helps parents change their behaviors in the service of treating their children’s anxiety. So it’s what I typically call in my practice the behind the scenes way of treating a childhood problem. And it’s really through the parents alone.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz 2:29

You know, in some of the anxiety problems that are treated with SPACE include separation anxiety, social and generalized anxiety, fears, and phobias, panic disorder, OCD, and many, many more.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 2:42

And Dr. Lebowitz is the author of the book Breaking Free of Child Anxiety and OCD, which I have here. And it is a wonderful informative book. Eli, thank you so much for joining joining us today.

Dr. Eli Lebowitz 2:56

Well, thank you so much for having me on. Those are some tough acts to follow in terms of the previous guests that you’ve had. So I’m honored to be on thanks so much.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz 3:06

You got it. This is awesome. So I just wanted to start first with how would you even we’ll talk about some specific examples for parents who are listening, we’re gonna go into really specific examples. And but I want to start with how did you get into this area of research and treatment to begin with?

Dr. Eli Lebowitz 3:24

Yeah, you know, this story goes back quite a few years at this at this point, when I finished my dissertation and a PhD in psychology and trained in psychoanalysis, which was the thing of the day and a little bit of cognitive behavioral therapy that was just kind of getting started. And I was working in a large Children’s Hospital, and I was actually working in two clinics. One of them was in anxiety and OCD clinic where the treatment that was delivered was cognitive behavioral therapy. And I also worked in a parent guidance clinic for parents of youth with really severe behavior problems, delinquency, aggression, vandalism, and things like that. And one of my jobs in the anxiety OCD program was to try to screen incoming new families and try to figure out would these be a fit for treatment? So what did I do? I had a very easy method. It wasn’t very complicated. I would mostly just ask, does your kid want? How do they want to do this treatment? And when parents said, Yeah, or the kid said, yeah, absolutely. I want to do this. We’d say like, great, you’re a good fit for this treatment. And when parents said, well, they don’t really want to do it, or the kid wasn’t really very motivated. I’d say, Well, you’re not a really good fit for this treatment. And I don’t think we’re going to be able to help you. But I got really frustrated over time. You know, parents would say to me, and it’s reasonable, they would say to me, yeah, my kid is too anxious to do the kind of treatment that you’re talking about, you know, cognitive behavioral therapy, that’s a really demanding treatment, it requires a lot of motivation, it means doing exposures to the things that you’re afraid of. The parents would say, Well, of course, they’re anxious. That’s why we’re here. So do you not treat anxious kids with your anxiety treatment, like what is going on, it didn’t make sense to them, I have to admit, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me either. Because on the same day, that I was saying to those parents, you know, oh, sorry, I don’t think we’re gonna be able to help you, I would walk down the hall to the parent guidance clinic, and say, to the parents of a kid with, you know, conduct disorder or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, oh, we don’t need your kid to come in. We’re going to work with you. Because that’s look for a long time, that’s been the go to approach in the externalizing. Problem world and the behavior problem? Well, it’s like, we’re gonna work with parents, these kids are often not, you know, ideal candidates for therapy. They’d rather be setting fire to the police station. And so we would work with the parents and say, hey, you know, we’re gonna give you the tools. And it just really drove me to think a lot about why do we not have more to offer to parents of kids with anxiety? Like, why is there so little to offer there because when parents, when, when researchers tried to work with parents in the past, in, in the treatment of child anxiety, they all did the same thing, basically, almost everybody, and that was trying to train the parent to do cognitive behavioral therapy to their child. And it turns out that that is not the best approach. Because if your kid doesn’t really want to do CBT, with their therapist, they are definitely not going to do it with

Dr. Leigh Weisz 6:48

I was gonna say, they definitely are not gonna want to do but they’re there. We know exactly.

Dr. Eli Lebowitz 6:52

Exactly. I mean, who can get your kid to do anything better? You or somebody? literally anybody else on the planet, usually, right? And so it turned out that that wasn’t really the best approach. And so I really got to thinking a lot about like, you know, what can we do with with parents, and that was like, you know, part of what, what really led to this to this development.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 7:13

That makes a lot of sense. I really like how you conceptualize anxiety and children is not just a child problem, but you’re also very careful not to blame parents. And I, I agree, can you share more about how you understand this system between the parents and the kids?

Dr. Eli Lebowitz 7:30

Yeah, I think it’s actually a really important point, because what we’re really trying to do is change the way that we think about child anxiety disorders, you know, for the longest time, the way we thought about child anxiety disorders, is basically adult anxiety disorders in a smaller package, right, in a smaller person and a younger person as though it’s exactly the same phenomenon. And that works to a degree, because in fact, yeah, child anxiety, in many ways, is very similar to adult anxiety, you do have worries, your fears, you have avoidance, all of those things that you have an adult. But what that really misses, is that actually child anxiety is not quite the same as adult anxiety. And the reason it isn’t, is deeply rooted in our biology, in our basic makeup as lay our species, right, this isn’t like just a, you know, abstract idea. It’s deeply rooted in our biology, especially and in particular, in our biology as mammals. Because pretty much all mammals are born, very, ill prepared for life. Right? Like we’re not able to survive. As mammals without somebody else. Of course, we’re not able to feed ourselves. So we’d all die off if nobody fed us. But we’re also not able to protect ourselves. Why is that important? Because we have been shaped to respond differently to fear when we’re young when we know I mean, no, I’m putting it in quotes, because this is like evolution. But we basically know like, I can’t deal with these threats on my own. Right? If you if you know, if you imagine a grown up, who is facing a threat, let’s say somebody is like, I don’t know, yelling at them on the street. What do they do they do? The classic fight or flight, right? Maybe they confront that person, maybe they avoid them? Well, if you walk up to somebody’s baby, and you scare that baby, which to be clear, I’m not encouraging you to do. I don’t actually recommend that. All of my preliminary pilot research indicates that it will not make you many friends. Start walking up to people’s babies and scaring them. But if you did, that baby is not going to do fight. It’s not going to be flight, what is the baby going to do? It’s going to cry, right? We all know it’s going to cry, because that is a way of alerting somebody else. Meaning that in children, we respond differently to fear. So if you have an anxiety disorder, meaning you have chronic fear activation in the wrong context, what are you going to do, you’re going to chronically activate somebody else, you’re going to activate your parent, you’re going to look to them to protect you, to soothe you, to comfort you, to reassure you to defend you, right? It’s all directed toward the parent. And in that sense, child anxiety disorders really are interpersonal phenomena. They’re not individual phenomena. It’s not like having, you know, a sprained ankle that lives just that you are Fudd, or a dental cavity that lives in your mouth. It is something that exists between parents and child, the battered system, exactly. That’s how our species evolved to deal with fear. That’s actually the part of child anxiety that most differentiates it from adult anxiety. But it really changes how we think of these problems and how we work with parents. When we realize just how interpersonal of an issue it actually is.

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