Empowering Anxious Parents to Manage Child Avoidance Behaviors: Randomized Control Trial of a Single-Session Intervention for Parental Accommodation

JMIR Ment Health. 2021 Jul 6;8(7):e29538. doi: 10.2196/29538.


Background: A majority of youth who need anxiety treatment never access support. This disparity reflects a need for more accessible, scalable interventions-particularly those that may prevent anxiety in high-risk children, mitigating future need for higher-intensity care. Self-guided single-session interventions (SSIs) may offer a promising path toward this goal, given their demonstrated clinical utility, potential for disseminability, and low cost. However, existing self-guided SSIs have been designed for completion by adolescents already experiencing symptoms, and their potential for preventing anxiety in children-for instance, by mitigating known anxiety risk factors-remains unexplored.

Objective: This trial evaluated the acceptability and proximal effects of project EMPOWER: a web-based, self-guided SSI designed to reduce parental accommodation, a parenting behavior known to increase the risk of anxiety in offspring.

Methods: In total, 301 parents who reported elevated anxiety symptoms with children aged 4-10 years received either project EMPOWER or an informational control (containing psychoeducational materials and resources); parents self-reported their accommodation of child anxiety and overall distress tolerance at baseline and 2-week follow-up.

Results: Relative to control-group parents, those who received the intervention outlined in project EMPOWER reported significant reductions in their accommodation of child anxiety (ds=0.61; P<.001) and significant increases in their distress tolerance (ds=0.43; P<.001) from baseline to 2-week follow-up. Additionally, parents rated project EMPOWER as highly acceptable (ie, easy to use, helpful, and engaging) in accordance with preregistered benchmarks.

Conclusions: Project EMPOWER is an acceptable self-guided SSI for parents of children at-risk for anxiety, which yields proximal reductions in clinically relevant targets.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT04453865; https://tinyurl.com/4h84j8t9.

Keywords: acceptability; adolescent; adolescent mental health; anxiety; avoidance; behavior; child mental health; children; digital mental health; intervention; mental health; parent; prevention; young adult.

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT04453865