A group-based parenting program known as Cool Little Kids has been shown to be an effective intervention to decrease the incidence of anxiety disorders among at-risk children. This face-to-face program provides strategies for parents to help manage their child’s avoidant coping, reduce overprotective behaviors, and encourage child independence.
A study in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has now found that an online version of Cool Little Kids can also reduce the symptoms of childhood anxiety and the degree to which anxiety interferes with daily life. The findings suggest that the online parent support program may be able to benefit a greater number children by removing barriers like access to trained therapists and scheduling obstacles without driving up costs.
For the study, Amy Morgan, Ph.D., of La Trobe University in Australia and colleagues recruited 433 parents with a child aged 3 to 6 who was experiencing behavioral distress and social withdrawal (seen as precursors to an anxiety disorder). The parents were randomized to participate in Cool Little Kids Online—which consisted of eight online modules that they could view at their own pace—or be placed on a waitlist. The parents completed self-report questionnaires at the start of the study and then again at 12 and 24 weeks.
After 24 weeks, 40% of the children whose parents were in the intervention group had a diagnosed anxiety disorder compared with 54% in the waitlist group. The diagnoses were based off of parent-reported Online Assessment of Preschool Anxiety scores, which were then reviewed and verified by a clinical psychologist.
The parents participating in Cool Little Kids Online also reported significantly greater improvements in their children’s anxiety symptoms (measured by the Revised Preschool Anxiety Scale) and greater reductions in the negative effects of anxiety on daily life (measured by the preschool version of the Children’s Anxiety Life Interference Scale). The two groups did not differ in total child internalizing symptoms or overprotective parenting.
“Online dissemination [of Cool Little Kids] has the potential to reach larger numbers of parents in the community with greater cost-efficiency than face-to-face delivery by trained professionals,” Morgan and colleagues wrote. “Additional research could investigate how to optimize the program in order to maximize its positive impact on anxious children and their families.”
Population of focus: Parents with a child aged 3 to 6 who was experiencing behavioral distress and social withdrawal
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Journal: Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry