For What She Did For Me-success with cognitive behavioral therapy for kids(CBT)

Back in July,  we started Cognitive Behavior Therapy at Boston University's CARD (Center For Anxiety and Related Disorders).  The program was magnificent.  Our coach, Meredith, and Kalvin quickly bonded and he was really ready to conquer his fears head on.  The therapy begins with a lesson in how our brain and body work when we are scared.  Kalvin learned that stress is normal.  Everyone needs a bit of fear to survive.  Fear is what keeps us from running out into traffic.  These simple teachings really resonated with Kalvin.  I think it comforted him to know that everyone experiences anxiety to some degree.  Everyone.  He knows that when anxiety stops you from doing things that you want to do, that it is not healthy.

CBT is about exposing yourself to your fears one step at a time.  A ladder approach.  Knowing that your fears are keeping you from fully experiencing life seemed to propel Kalvin forward.  We put our fear ladder together, rating our fears and listing the easier exposures at the bottom and the really scary goals at the top.  As we began our exposures, Kal would get anxious, experience physical symptoms and then suddenly something would take over and he would say "let's just do it.  Come on, drop me off.  I can do this!"  It was amazing to watch the transformation. 

Anxiety is becoming a regular part of society.  Just think of the tragic events that have unfolded over the past year.  As much as we try and shelter these traumatic situations from our kids, anxiety is still becoming part of their daily lives.  After we completed the cognitive behavioral therapy, I read this article in the Huffington Post and thought, wow, here it is in black and white...exactly what we did.    I will say, having a Coach as wonderful as Meredith really made a difference.  Not all of the techniques Kalvin learned at CARD were new to us and;  in fact, we have practiced some of them before, but going weekly and having a coach guide us and assign us homework, made it work for our family. It wasn't me, the nagging mom, telling him this is what he should do, but a trained doctor working with him and assuring him this was going to work out, things were going to get better for him.  And they did.

The results have been amazing.  Kalvin has done things he has never done before.  Some of his feats were listed on his ladder.  Others are the result of the overall confidence he has gained.  You may recall a post back in May where I talked about what a day at the park can reveal about brothers. Kalvin does not like slides and wanted no part of going down a large one on this particular day at the park, but peer pressure from his two year old brother convinced him to give him it a try.  Kalvin followed his little brother up the big ladder and down the loopy slide.  The look on Kalvin's face revealed that he was stepping outside of his comfort zone.  Sliding was not fun for Kal.  Not even the second or third time.  

This December we took a trip and stayed in a hotel that had a small water park with two huge water slides.  I almost fell over as Kalvin dropped his towel, looked up at the top of the slide and headed up the stairs never looking back.  All alone.  Finn was too short to go on the big slides.  Kal was going to go down the water slides all by himself.  No talking himself into it.  He acted as if he had done this a million times before.  Up he went.

And then he came down.

With a big splash.  And went back up.  Over and over again.  He went in the tunnel slide.  He went in the water slide that was completely covered over and over again.  L O V I N G  every minute of it.  It is something I will never forget.  The look on his face.  The pure excitement.  The fun he was having.  He never once mentioned that it was a tall slide.  Or a slide that was completely enclosed.  He has barely been down a slide since last May and now he was acting as if he had never feared it.

No one said a word.  We just stared in awe.  No one mentioned that this was his first time coming down a water slide.  We all reveled in the joy.  In the fun.  In the excitement.  And maybe one might think he has just matured.  He is older now.  Kids outgrow these fears. But I tell you, it is so much more than that.  Look at the expression on his face back in May. (below) Pure panic.

And then look at him here.  Pure confidence.

Kal is so proud of the work he did with Meredith.  He started slowly,  at the bottom of the fear ladder.  We used a Fear Thermometer (0 being no fear and 10 being I can't do it) to rate our anxiety level when we started an exposure and then again when we were done. We went to stores and separated briefly.  Kal's fear would be rated a five on the Fear Thermometer which is right where you want it to start.  Then he would come find us-don't worry we had someone watching the door. And his Fear Thermometer rating would go right back to zero.  It was amazing to watch his confidence grow with each exposure.  We would do it again the next day.  Over and over until his thermometer rating started at zero.  Then we would move on to more challenging exposures like walking to the soccer field from the parking lot by himself, promising we would meet him in ten minutes.  We had a friend's mother drive him home from an activity while I followed in the car.  One ladder rung at a time we worked our way to the top. 

We also practiced exposures during our CBT sessions with Meredith. Kalvin actually went in a elevator by himself and tried to find what floor Meredith was on.  Riding the elevator alone. Elevator tag she called it.  But you see, this is a boy who would grab on to you for dear life as you approached an elevator,  afraid the door would close and separate us.  For life.  And now he is playing "elevator tag" with Meredith?!?  It was a great combination of home and classroom exposures that helped Kal climb the ladder and make it all the way to the top.

At the end of our twenty weeks, we had a little celebration with Meredith.  Kalvin received a certificate from Meredith and a card from us with

B RU I N S    T I C K E T S  in it for New Years Eve.  He was giddy.  I thought he was going to burst into tears he was so excited for the tickets.

Sorry for the blurry picture.  He was so excited he was jumping up and down!

 Kalvin and Meredith.  What a team.

Saying goodbye to Meredith was really tough.  She really helped our family.  We knew this and we knew that her special bond with Kal really helped him, us, succeed.  We can call Meredith whenever we need advice.  We can go back to the Center for a "booster" anytime we feel anxiety creeping back in control.  That is comforting to us all. 

It is really hard to put into words the gratitude we feels towards Meredith and the CARD's CBT program.  I think Kalvin said it best as we were riding the elevator down from our mini celebration with Meredith.  He held the Bruins tickets up in his hand and said, "I really wanted to give these tickets to Meredith for what she did for me."


  1. How interesting, Kristen, to imagine applying this to my own life - tackling fears one at a time. Congrats to Kalvin on the water slides! I'm sure you were bursting that day. :)

    1. Thanks Erica. It was amazing to watch him tackle one fear at a time and to see the end results. Kalvin would not go upstairs alone or down to his playroom alone, even just to get something. Now he moves around the whole house without fear. And even after we have stopped the exposures, he is still making strides. Start small and work your way up...that is what I have been trying to do to:-) Thanks for stopping by. XOXO Kristen