By Siyu Long, Johns Hopkins University
Researchers have regarded parent-only interventions for childhood anxiety as an important alternative to resource- and time-intensive child-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). A meta-analysis by Jewell and colleagues aimed to investigate the efficacy of parent-only interventions in reducing symptoms of anxiety disorders in school-aged children.
This systematic research examined five databases and identified 29 eligible studies published between 1999 and 2020. Across a diverse set of study designs, a total of 2916 participants were included. Whilst most studies included parents of children with a range of anxiety diagnoses, five papers focused on specific diagnoses: separation anxiety, specific phobia of the dark, or selective mutism. Child ages ranged from 4 to 17 years. Twenty-three studies evaluated a CBT intervention with parents. Intervention duration ranged from 4 to 22 weeks, with the majority of interventions taking place over 10 or 12 weeks.
To date, this is the first systematic review and meta-analysis of the efficacy of parent-only interventions for reducing symptoms of child anxiety disorders. Findings from this meta-analysis indicate that parent-only interventions may be effective in reducing child anxiety. However, these results are limited by the use of less rigorous methods (19/29 of the included studies were rated as weak methodologically). This is especially important because the outcomes for the uncontrolled, weaker studies tended to be larger. Despite these limitations, these findings suggest that efficient, low-intensity interventions delivered to parents may lead to positive outcomes for children.