During the summer, many parents ask if their children should continue ongoing treatment (or begin a new course of treatment) or take a break until Fall. This is a really interesting question and varies from one anxious child to another. Let me try to provide some guidelines for parents trying to make this decision as the summer months are upon us.
-Some kids really only experience anxiety during the school year. Their stress is all about grades, getting their work done, and achievement. Once school is out, a sense of calm descends over the child and indeed, over the whole family! For many children, especially young ones, "out of sight is out of mind." Kids have a hard time re-capturing this anxiety when it is not actually happening in their "real lives". For these kids, taking some time off treatment is just fine. I like meeting up with these patients a week or two before school begins to review what was learned in treatment the prior school year and to set goals for the upcoming year.
-With teenage patients who experience a great deal of school-related stress/perfectionism, I often encourage them to sign up for some sort of class over the summer so that we can continue to work on their anxiety. We can even re-create some school stress in our sessions. For kids who worry about finding just the right topic for an essay (and thus, never actually write the essay!), I give them assignments right in the session and we do an exposure to starting to write before they feel perfectly ready. For kids who worry about class presentations, I have them prepare a presentation and deliver it to me in the session. It is also worth noting that older teens are better at thinking back on the year that they have had and discussing how they would like the upcoming year to be different so therapy with this age group can be very productive even when school is not in session.
-If kids and families don't expect to have much anxiety over the summer, I like to get creative and see if we can create some so that we can continue working over the summer when there is less stress and busy-ness overall. For example, let's take a child with separation anxiety who is going to be home with mom all summer. We can most certainly continue to work together by planning playdates, sleepovers, some half-day camps, time with babysitters, etc. This takes effort and planning, but pays off in the Fall when children are more at ease with saying goodbye to mom in the morning to go to school!
-Of course, some anxiety is not limited to the school environment or pressures of the school year (e.g., OCD about dirt and germs; worries that extend beyond school; etc.) and treatment can continue very successfully over the summer.
-And, there are other anxiety problems best treated in the summer like fears of specific insects (bees, spiders), fear of storms, and fear of swimming in pools/lakes/oceans.
Please contact me if you have questions about summer treatment for your child/family!
I am a licensed psychologist working with kids, teens, and adults with anxiety disorders.