Easing children's anxiety

May 14, 2021

Health

By Kristin Baird Rattini

Even before COVID-19 emerged, mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression were increasing in children ages 6 to 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The social isolation and drastic upheavals imposed by the pandemic have only heightened those concerns.

Anne Marie Albano, W’83, understands how these children are feeling. Author of You and Your Anxious Child and founder of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders, Albano is a psychologist whose research over the past four decades has focused on children and anxiety. During the pandemic, her expertise has been sought out by professional organizations and such high-profile media outlets as The Washington Post and The Atlantic.

Her advice?

“Folks need to be flexible in the way they think about things,” she says. “Schools need to be as creative as possible in making opportunities and resources available to families. Parents and children need to be flexible in how we live together and cooperate with one another in a more harmonious way. That includes recognizing when we might need space and quiet time and that kids need their own privacy, too.”

Albano herself suffered anxiety as a child. She sees how social media and pressure to perform contribute to her young patients’ distress. But she is encouraged by treatment advances, particularly in cognitive behavioral therapy and the use of artificial intelligence and virtual therapy games.

“We know what works to help overcome anxiety,” she says. “If we can use technology to reach more kids who are suffering, we can help them develop the skills they need to soar into adulthood in a much healthier way.”