Many children suffer from anxiety. It could be in the form of a fear of heights, social anxiety, or just general worries.
Until 2009, scientists did not really know which type of treatment was the most effective. But recent studies have shown that cognitive behavioural therapy is a good option.
In Denmark, the Cool Kids program has had a particularly good effect. It is a scientifically based model for how cognitive behavioural therapy can help children to control their anxiety.
“Before we introduced cognitive behavioural therapy to treat children suffering with anxiety in 2009, there generally wasn’t much focus on childhood anxiety. Now there is, and it’s partly because our studies into the effect of treating children with cognitive behavioural therapy,” says Mikael Thastum, a professor from the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences at Aarhus University, Denmark, who introduced the Cool Kids program in Denmark.
Research in the Cool Kids program is supported by the Tryg Foundation with 7.8 million Danish kroner (1.05m EUR).
The Cool Kids program was initially tested on 109 Danish children with various types of anxiety.
The trial was conducted by scientists at Aarhus University. The children were either treated via the Cool Kids program or waited three months to receive treatment, thereby giving researchers a basis for comparison.
Their results showed that kids enrolled in the Cool Kids program significantly improved, in comparison with those who did not take part. Up to two thirds of them lost their anxiety.
Around five per cent of all children and adolescents suffer from anxiety.
It can lead to social isolation and sudden panic attacks.
It can make it difficult to go to school.
Anxiety is often accompanied by physical symptoms and unrealistic fears.
For example, they could be afraid that something will happen to their parents when they are not with them, or that they will lose all of their friends if they say something wrong in class.
The program also worked when used by practising clinical psychologists.
“[Denmark] has just released new recommendations for treating children with anxiety using cognitive behavioural therapy. They have adopted the Cool Kids program, as have many local municipalities throughout Denmark, on the basis of our trials,” says Thastum.
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Doctor Pia Jeppesen is a senior researcher in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Centre at Rigs Hospital, Denmark. She did not take part in the new study, but she is familiar with Thastum’s work and the Cool Kids program.
According to Jeppesen, the types of cognitive behavioural therapy used in the program are among the best documented methods and techniques to help children deal with their anxiety.
“The effects are promising and many children are clearly happy to take part, because we can see that their symptoms ease significantly. It’s great that we have some well-documented methods that work for these children,” she says.
“There can be some cultural differences that make some things work in one country and [not in another]. But we’ve documented the effects of the program here in Denmark,” she says.
Read the Danish version of this story on Videnskab.dk