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My Anxiety Plan (MAP) for Children and Teens
What is My Anxiety Plan (MAP)?
My Anxiety Plan (MAP) is an anxiety management program based on cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is an evidence-based psychological treatment that was developed through decades of scientific research and has been shown to be one of the most effective treatments for anxiety problems. MAP is a resource for parents and caregivers to “coach” anxious children or teens using practical strategies and tools to manage anxiety. MAP includes 6 units with 46 lessons.
- Unit 1: Starting the Journey: Understanding Anxiety. The lessons in this unit highlight key information and facts about anxiety, so that you and your child can become anxiety experts. The lessons will also help you and your child take some initial steps to get ready to tackle anxiety.
- Unit 2: Calming Strategies: Learning to Chill. In Unit 2, lessons focus on helping your child or teen learn relaxation and mindfulness strategies to help them “ride out” the physical sensations of anxiety.
- Unit 3: Helpful Thinking: Talking Back to Anxiety. Learning to be a balanced thinker is a core strategy for coping with anxiety. In this unit, you will help your child or teen learn how to catch, evaluate, and change their anxious thinking.
- Unit 4: Facing Fears: Exposure. Unit 4 outlines one of the most powerful tools for managing anxiety. You will learn how to help your child or teen overcome their fears by gradually facing them one step at a time.
- Unit 5: Continuing the Journey: Staying on Track. Help your child or teen prepare for the future with strategies aimed at maintaining their gains and keeping anxiety in check. Unit 5 highlights the importance of a solid foundation and helping your child or teen develop a plan to prevent anxiety from making a come back.
- Unit 6: Special Topics. Your child or teen may have some specific fears or be faced with situations that are challenging in unique ways that require specialized tools. In this final unit, get additional information and strategies to tackle other problem areas that your child may need help with.
Who is this Program for?
The MAP program was designed as a self-help program for parents or caregivers to support children and teens with mild to moderate anxiety problems. It can also be used by educators to better understand anxiety and learn about key tools for helping students manage anxiety that can also be used in school settings. Although MAP was designed to be used on your own, it can also be used while working with a mental health professional who can guide you through it.
How to Work Through this Program?
We encourage you to review the material on your own first, and once you’re familiar with it, work through it with your child or teen. Make sure to work through the various units and lessons at your own pace. As this is a journey and not a race, you may choose to go through all 6 units, lesson by lesson, over the course of weeks or months. Alternatively, you may prefer to skip around the various units, focusing only on relevant lessons, knowing you can return at a later date and work through the rest. This content can be reviewed and learned via computer screen, and worksheets and forms can be filled out and printed. Finally, you and your child can decide whether you wish to schedule formal “coaching” time on a weekly basis to review the lessons, or whether you prefer to do this work when the timing feels right even if this is at less regular times or intervals. The point is that there is no “right” way to use this material, and while we do recommend proceeding through the units and lessons in the specified order, the goal is to inspire your child to learn and if this means working out of sequence, the MAP program can be used in this way.
When to Seek Professional Help?
Working through this material can be challenging, especially if your child or teen is struggling with more moderate to severe anxiety issues. If your child has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder the information and strategies in the program may not be sufficient. If you’re struggling to get your child to use the strategies or your child or teen’s symptoms persist or worsen despite working through the program, seek professional help. Talk to your family doctor and find a therapist who specializes in CBT.
You begin by clicking SIGN UP (top right hand corner) and set up a free account. After you’ve set up your account, click on the Anxiety Canada logo on the top left corner of your page which will take you to the MAPs Preview page where you can choose the program you want: MAP for Children or MAP for Adults. On the MAP for Children or MAP for Adults pages, please click on START PLAN to get started.
We ask you to set up an account so you can work through the program at your own pace and your progress is automatically saved.
Throughout this program we will use the term parent or caregiver to refer to any adult who is routinely involved in the care of an anxious child or teen. Furthermore, the term child, teen, and youth will be used interchangeably.
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After registration and anytime you need to return to the beginning of the course, please click on our logo at top left.
Starting the Journey: Understanding Anxiety
If your child or teen is struggling with anxiety and you’re not sure how best to help, arm yourself with key facts and information about anxiety. A better understanding of anxiety will help you develop a plan of action to help your child tackle anxiety.
When children and teens are anxious, they feel it in their bodies and it affects what they think and do. Learning to recognize anxiety is an important first step in being able to manage it.
Although anxiety can keep us safe when there is actual danger, anxiety becomes a problem when it happens a lot, feels intense, causes distress, and gets in the way of living life.
There are different types of childhood anxiety and anxiety-related problems. Having a better sense of the type of anxiety problems your child might be experiencing can help you better support them.
There are a number of things you can do to set the stage for helping your child or teen manage their anxiety. Giving anxiety a name and identity, developing a support team, and creating a healthy foundation will help your child start to fight back.
Although you are at the start of the MAP program, you may have already hit a roadblock. This lesson is designed to provide you with some effective and creative ideas to better engage your child with the MAP program in order to help them start bossing back to anxiety.
Calming Strategies: Learning to Chill
Unfortunately, there is nothing your child or teen can do that will instantly get rid of all of their anxiety. But there are powerful tools your child can use to significantly “dial down the volume” of their anxiety.
When your child or teen is anxious, their body prepares them to deal with danger by revving up the body. Relaxation exercises help your child or teen relax their bodies, which helps reduce the unwanted physical sensations of anxiety.
Mindfulness involves helping your child or teen learn to pay attention to what’s going on in a different way: focusing on the present moment with purpose and without judgment, which can help them get out unstuck from worries about the future.
The self-soothing strategies in this lesson are designed to help your child or teen temporarily soothe or reduce intense or difficult emotions, like anxiety.
The following ideas can help maximize your child’s ability to embrace and use mindfulness and relaxation as part of their MAP. Partnering with your child to do some of these exercises will benefit everyone.
Helpful Thinking: Talking Back to Anxiety
Anxious children spend a lot of time thinking about all the terrible things that could happen. But our thoughts are not facts, so we don’t have to believe everything we think. Becoming a more balanced thinker is an important step in managing anxiety.
To better manage anxiety, your child needs to have a better understanding of what’s going on in their mind. The first step is to explain to your child that they have thoughts that “pop up” and tumble around in their mind. And, that some of these thoughts fuel their anxiety.
Once your child understands the concept of thoughts, it’s time to start helping them identify their own thoughts or “pop up” messages. It will be a lot easier for your child to come up with more balanced thoughts, if they’re able to catch their anxious thoughts in the first place.
Once your child or teen is more aware of their anxious thoughts, the next step is to test out whether those thoughts are true. Most anxious children tend to overestimate the likelihood of danger and underestimate their ability to cope.
The final step in helping your child become a more balanced thinker involves learning to “talk back” to anxiety by teaching them how to replace anxious thoughts with more realistic, balanced statements.
Learning to catch, evaluate, and change one’s thinking style is a key strategy in your child’s MAP. Learn about additional tips for helping your child or teen become a more balanced thinker.
Facing Fears: Exposure
One of the most important tools for helping your child reduce unwanted anxiety is to teach them how to gradually face their fears through a process called exposure. Exposure involves having your child slowly and repeatedly face what they’re afraid of until they feel less anxious.
Exposure involves identifying what a child or teen is afraid of, coming up with a list of exposure tasks (or actions a child can take to face their fears), and building a fear ladder (which is a list of a child’s exposure tasks ranked from least to most scary).
Get your child ready to face their fears head on by helping them build a fear ladder using these three key steps: 1) identify your child’s fear and goal; 2) make a list of exposure tasks; and 3) build a fear ladder.
Exposure is a powerful tool for reducing anxiety, but it’s also one of the most challenging. That’s why it’s important to take the time to set it up properly. Before having your child start completing exposure practices there are some important things to consider.
Facing fears can be challenging. It can be helpful to create a “points plan” prior to starting exposure to help motivate your child and reward their hard work.
Now that you have a fear ladder(s) for your child or teen, and have taken the necessary steps to prepare for doing exposure, you’re now ready to have your child climb their ladder, step by step, all the way to the top.
Some types of anxiety themes or problems require some unique exposures. If your child struggles with panic, selective mutism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post traumatic stress disorder, get some additional information and tips for doing exposures.
As you and your child continue to do exposure work, you might become more aware of the ways that you and your family have been accommodating anxiety. Together you can plan to gradually roll back those accommodations.
Children and teens with anxiety tend to seek a lot of reassurance. They also tend to be more fearful or intolerant of new and uncertain situations. Use exposure strategies to help your child tackle excessive reassurance seeking and become more tolerant of the uncertainties in life.
Doing exposure with your child on your own can be quite challenging. Do some troubleshooting and get some additional tips, and seek professional help when needed.
Continuing the Journey: Staying on Track
In order to help your child stay on track (maintaining progress), help your child maintain a healthy foundation and continue to practicing their MAP strategies.
Focusing on creating a healthy home with routine and structure, as well as clear expectations, will help your child feel secure and keep anxiety in check.
Although your child or teen has been learning key strategies for managing their anxiety, it’s also important to help them take care of themselves. This includes eating well, getting enough sleep, being active, and reducing stress.
Helping your child or teen maintain their gains involves making sure they’re having fun, connecting with friends, and engaging in hobbies or activities they feel passionate about. These things will improve your child’s well-being and help them boss back to anxiety.
Maintaining progress is an important goal. Children can and do slip back into old habits (called a “lapse”), and they can lose the improvements they have made, which over time can lead to a “relapse”. Luckily, there are ways to prevent anxiety from making a come back.
You can continue to help your child or teen maintain their gains by working on a few additional things: educate, set goals, build a healthy relationship, work together, build independence, take care of yourself, and get help when needed.
In addition to providing your child or teen with the knowledge and tools outlined in the previous 5 units, they may have some specific fears or be faced with situations that are challenging in unique ways that require specialized tools and ideas.
It’s normal for children and teens to feel some anxiety around starting or returning to school. Here are some tips and a timeline for dealing with back to school worries and getting your child ready for school.
Some kids struggle to attend school on a consistent basis. These children and teens typically refuse to attend school for a variety of reasons, including escaping from aspects of school that cause distress and avoiding feared social and performance situations.
Friendships are an important part of childhood and adolescence. However, some anxious children and teens find it hard to interact with peers. They desperately want to be accepted by peers, but their anxiety holds them back. Help your child make and keep friends.
Wanting to do your best and reach important goals are wonderful characteristics. However, children and teens with perfectionism don’t simply want to do their best, they must do their best, and will do so at a great cost. Help your child or teen be less rigid and perfectionistic.
Some youth experience panic attacks, which are sudden rushes of intense fear or discomfort. Learn to debunk some coming myths about panic attacks and get tips for managing them.
When anxiety is creating sleep disturbance in your lives, the goal is to increase your child’s confidence about being able to self-soothe and get to sleep independently, and to be able to enjoy sleeping away from home.
Anxious children and teens sometimes struggle with nightmares. As a parent or caregiver, your first instinct is to want to soothe your child, which is perfectly understandable. However, how you soothe and encourage your child to cope can make a big difference.
Children with selective mutism do not speak in certain social situations. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about selective mutism. The information in this lesson can help debunk those myths and arm you with the information and tools to help your child.
Most children and teens feel a bit uneasy when they see blood or have to have an injection. For some youth, seeing blood or needles causes them to feel light-headed or actually faint. Fortunately, there is a simple technique that can help.
Body Focused Repetitive Behaviours (BFRBs), such as hair pulling and skin picking, can create significant stress and interference in your child’s life. The good news is that there are several effective treatment strategies that can help.
Almost everyone feels some anxiety before a test or exam. But too much anxiety can get in the way of doing well. If your child or teen experiences intense anxiety before or during tests, there’s a lot you can do to help them manage it.