Making Sense of Anxiety

There is currently an epidemic of anxiety affecting children of all ages. Differing estimates suggest that one in five to one in eight qualify for an anxiety disorder diagnosis, making this the most common diagnosis in children. Anxiety can take many forms including obsessions, compulsions, phobias, panic, as well as a host of perplexing seeking and avoidant behaviours. Various strategies are emerging on how to treat anxiety problems, but most interventions are hand-me-downs from adult treatment and are questionable in terms of their appropriateness with children.

We cannot treat something that we do not understand; making sense of anxiety is foundational to its cure. This is where Dr. Neufeld begins, putting the pieces of the anxiety puzzle together to reveal roots deep in separation alarm. Dr. Neufeld’s comprehensive model of attachment provides new meaning to the construct of separation and lays the foundation for effective treatment and cure. In mapping out the separation complex, Dr. Neufeld also reveals the relationship of anxiety to other common childhood issues including dominance, aggression and attention problems. Dr. Neufeld brings a fresh and promising perspective to one of our most troubling and perplexing human problems.

The course is divided into two parts: theory and application. The first three sessions are dedicated to unfolding a model of anxiety that has universal application. Given that anxiety is such an enigma, shedding light on its roots is absolutely essential to addressing the problem. Once the key insights are mastered, the implications and applications flow rather logically.

The theory part of the course revolves around three conceptual keys that unlock the necessary insights. These keys come from three diverse scientific fields of knowledge: neurobiology, attachment and vulnerability. Only in bringing all these insights together does anxiety reveal its secrets.

Session One - Neuroscience of Anxiety

The focus of session one is the neuroscience of anxiety. The key discovery here is of a complex and comprehensive human alarm system. The anatomy of the alarm system is described along with how the alarm system is meant to work. When the pieces are put together, we find that there are three possible alternative outcomes to being alarmed. Before the alarm system can function optimally however, the child or adult must be capable of adaptive and integrative functioning. This functioning depends upon a well-developed and healthy limbic system and cerebral cortex. Deficits in this functioning can result in chronic and untempered alarm. The personality attributes associated with a healthy working alarm system are presented.

Session Two - Anxiety, Attachment & Vulnerability

To discover what alarms us, we need to go to the science of attachment and redefine our understanding of human threat - that of facing separation in all its various forms. A comprehensive understanding of attachment provides the insights required to make sense of what is happening on the neurobiological level. The third and final key to the puzzle however, it provided by vulnerability theory, as we realize that facing separation can be a vulnerability too much to bear. The resulting blindness cripples the alarm system and divorces the anxious symptoms from the underlying alarm.

Session Three - Working Model of Anxiety

In this session, the insights are combined to create a working model of anxiety. The severity of defendedness gives rise to three kinds of alarm problems: anxiety-based, agitation-based, and adrenalin-based, with a whole spectrum of manifestations. The primary focus of this session however is understanding where obsessions and compulsions come from and outlining seven classical themes in our anxieties. Recognizing the signs of anxiety is key to addressing the underlying alarm. In preparation for the application part of the course, Dr. Neufeld outlines six reasons for the escalating anxiety of our children.

Session Four - Addressing Anxiety

In this final session, six surprising solutions are described for reducing the anxiety in our children. These solutions are not surprising once anxiety is understood, but they are surprising in that they run counter to most prevailing ways of dealing with anxiety. These solutions are also surprising in that they put parents in the drivers seat as the ultimate answer to childhood anxiety. What is also surprising is the profound effectiveness of these non-medical solutions, especially with children. Dr. Neufeld has been treating anxiety problems from this perspective for over forty years and in this session, describes the essence of this insight-based approach.

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Making Sense of Discipline: the Ins and Outs of imposing order on children’s behaviour

Most every parent and teacher wants to know what to do when ….. This tends to be the most pressing and universal issue in dealing with children. Finding the right answers to these questions becomes more challenging when parents and teachers are concerned about issues like attachment and healthy development and do not want their discipline methods to undermine or sabotage these processes. At the same time however there is the responsibility to teach the lessons that need to be learned and to impose order when required.

This course speaks to the question of what to do when …, but does so in the larger context of what is required to raise children to their full potential as human beings. Some of the prevailing discipline practices - like time-outs and consequences - are discussed from this perspective. This course provides participants with the opportunity to develop a comprehensive approach to discipline with strategies that are attachment-safe and developmentally friendly.

This course not only answers the question of what to do when problems arise but does so without sacrificing a child’s emotional health and sense of security for short-term gains in behaviour and performance. The ultimate objective of this course is for parents and teachers to come to the place where the answers will come from their own understanding and where they possess the inner confidence to handle the small stuff as well as the more challenging issues.

Course objectives include:

  • to apply developmental science to the arena of discipline
  • to enable parents and teachers to think critically regarding the current discipline practices
  • to provide a philosophy of discipline that is congruent with science and with the developmental needs of the child
  • to equip parents and teachers with the inner confidence to handle problem behaviour
  • to provide discipline strategies that are attachment-safe and developmental friendly


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This material is copyright and appears here courtesy of the Neufeld Institute


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