Highland Schools pilots program aimed at improving student anxiety


April 15 board of education meeting

SPACE, a pilot program designed to help parents whose children suffer with significant anxiety, was outlined at the April 15 Board of Education meeting. The initial six-week program was offered via Zoom to a small number of parents this school year and is open to all elementary and middle school parents through referral.

The SPACE program was developed by Dr. Eli Lebowitz at the Yale Childhood Study Center. Presenting the program was Deb Mazur, Granger school psychologist, and Trish Symons, mental health liaison for Highland Schools from the Educational Service Center of Medina County.

SPACE stands for Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions and is a parent-based treatment program for children and adolescents suffering from anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and related problems. SPACE aims to treat anxiety problems including separation anxiety, social anxiety, generalized anxiety, fears and phobias, panic disorder and agoraphobia and selective mutism (unable to speak in certain situations).

Mazur said that one in three children will experience clinically significant anxiety symptoms. She explained that studies show that having parents complete the SPACE program was just as effective as having a child go to a counselor for anxiety issues. She said parents who participate in SPACE learn skills and tools to help their child over come anxiety and related problems. The treatment focuses on changes that parents can make to their own behavior, which means they do not need to make their child change.

“In SPACE, parents learn to respond in a more supportive way to the child’s anxiety through two things: acceptance and confidence,” she said. “Importantly, at the same time, parents will aim to decrease over accommodating in response to their child’s anxiety symptoms, such as speaking for a child, writing notes to excuse them from an anxiety-provoking activity or accompanying them at an anxiety-provoking activity.”

Mazur said there are six components to the program: understanding the accommodation cycle; using supportive statements; charting accommodations; choosing a target problem and developing a plan; informing the child-partner collaboration; and engaging support and dealing with disruptive behavior.

“For instance, if your child is expressing anxiety over an upcoming test, a parent acknowledges the child’s feeling but encourages them saying; ‘I understand that you’re anxious, but you can do this, we’ll get through it.’”

Granger Elementary School Principal LeAnn Gausman said at this time of year, when state testing is going on and there’s the bustle of the end of the year activities, anxiety can be high in children.

Several board members commented that they believed social media and COVID have had a large impact on student anxiety and that there are a lot of high expectations on students today. Mazur added that Eli R. Lebowitz has written a book on the subject; “Breaking Free of Child Anxiety and OCD,” which parents may be interested in reading. ∞