Concerns about the well-being and emotional health of children and young people have been rising over the past two decades, with anxiety rates increasing among teenage girls in particular1. This trend has only worsened during COVID-19.2
It is widely recognised that everyone can play their part in supporting young people’s mental health. As suggested by the Centre for Mental Health, a joined-up approach including parents, schools, government, local authorities and community groups must be taken to combat the increasing rates of mental and emotional distress effecting young people, particularly in light of the pandemic.3
A specific Triple P programme, Fear-Less Triple P, has been developed as an intervention for parents of children with anxiety. The programme helps parents learn new cognitive behavioural strategies and other techniques for anxiety management to improve the whole family’s coping skills. The programme is for parents of children who have clinically significant levels of anxiety that is impacting on daily life. Fear-Less Triple P has been delivered in trials in various countries, including Ireland, and practitioner training is available more widely from 1st July 2021.
The Fear-Less Triple P programme is designed to help parents:
Ultimately, the programme supports parents in applying positive parenting and anxiety management skills with more confidence. Parents are encouraged to use strategies with each child in the family, not just the one about whom they have the most concerns. As a result, the whole family are better able to manage anxiety provoking situations and experience less anxiety.
In Finglas, a region of North Dublin in Ireland, the Barnardo’s led ‘Better Finglas Programme’ delivers Fear-Less Triple P to families. Better Finglas offer various support interventions to improve children’s health, educational and social outcomes in the local area. As part of their aim to adopt best practice when providing an intervention designed to reduce anxiety, they recognise the benefits, for both children and parents, of early intervention. The team’s delivery of Fear-Less Triple P has been a key support mechanism for parents in the area, who had previously reported their children’s anxiety levels had increased significantly in the last year.
We asked Better Finglas’s Aoife Hogge (Project Coordinator) and Sarah Davis (Preparing for Life Mentor) about why the programme has been so successful.
In the last year, the Better Finglas team have seen COVID-19 heightening anxiety levels, in both children and their parents. Their Fear-Less Triple P Seminars received the greatest response for an individual seminar they had ever experienced, with 60 families taking part. Many parents then sought further support, and opted to do the more detailed Fear-Less programme, where they learned a range of new strategies to improve their children’s emotional wellbeing and anxiety management. By providing parents with helpful tools to support their child with anxiety, Fear-Less Triple P empowers parents with skills and confidence to support their families as a whole.
The Fear-Less Triple P programme delivered in Ireland includes both a light-touch intervention via large group seminars, and a more intensive 6-session programme. Only the later will be available in the short term.
Sarah shared the example of a mum who was seeing great distress in her child, and turned to the Better Finglas team for support. Initially, the parent had approached a children’s clinic, only to be told there was a 5-month waiting list. Desperate for immediate help, she found Fear-Less Triple P programme at just the right time.
Her child was struggling to communicate their feelings, and would become angry or upset when anyone tried to explore what was happening. After completing the 6-session group Fear-Less Triple P programme, this parent has been given the knowledge and skills to better support her child in dealing with strong emotions. Sarah explained that there were many techniques which resonated with the parent, but those which had the greatest impact were:
As a result, the parent found the programme to be a “complete game changer”, describing the significant impact on her child. She was able to communicate with her child and explore exactly what had been triggering emotional outbursts. This enabled the parent to help the child positively manage emotions and process them effectively and rationally.
Then there were those families who had previously experienced challenges with their children’s anxiety levels, but now needed more support as the problem became worse. One parent had been working with a psychologist but after doing Fear-Less Triple P, started using different techniques to change some approaches. This parent worked on developing more realistic thinking and optimism, and giving regular praise when talking to their child, which had a beneficial effect on the child’s emotional wellbeing.
The overwhelmingly positive feedback from Aoife and Sarah included the suggestion that Fear-Less Triple P can be used to prevent as well as treat problems with anxiety. If all mums, dads, and carers have in their parenting toolkit ways to improve their own emotional literacy, and that of their children, they can deal with challenges earlier on. This approach has helped to empower parents in the Finglas area to support their children and teenagers, while also providing them with support and strategies to help with their own emotional wellbeing and mental health.