When your child is anxious, it’s natural to want to help them feel better. However, when we try to protect them from things that are upsetting, we may, accidentally, be making their anxiety worse. The best course of action is to teach them to deal with it in a healthy manner, rather than trying to take them out of the uncomfortable situation and reinforcing that getting upset is a good way to cope. Instead, talk to them. Let them know they are going to be okay, even if they are scared. Unfortunately, you can’t promise your child that their fears are unrealistic. But you can express your confidence that they are capable of facing their fears and feeling less afraid over time.

When you are talking your child through an anxious moment, try to avoid leading questions, such as “Are you worried about the test tomorrow?”, and instead ask open-ended questions, such as “How do you feel about the test tomorrow?”. It can also be helpful to play the “What If” game – What if their fear does happen? How would they respond? Who would they ask for help? Make a plan with them and give them confidence that your expectations are realistic – you don’t expect them to do something they can’t handle. Use calm body language and gentle tones to show that you are calm. This may help them gain a sense of calm as well. Remember though, validation doesn’t always mean agreeing with them. We don’t want to belittle their feelings, but we also don’t want to amplify them. Let them tell you about their fears, listen to understand rather than to respond, and then encourage them. A good example of this is, “I know you’re scared and that’s okay. I’m here and I’m going to help you through this”. Express to them that you understand the work and energy it takes to work through their anxiety, especially if it’s something they need to do over and over again.

The good news is that there is something called the “habituation curve”, which is a fancy term for “getting used to it”. Meaning their anxiety will drop over time as they continue to successfully come in contact with their stressor. However, it’s important to remember that this contact must be at the child’s pace, taking small manageable steps and done with care and compassion. Otherwise, you risk making their fears worse. It may take longer than you like, and it may not drop to zero, but that is how we learn to get over our fears, one step at a time, with repeated exposures. The most difficult time to face fears is the ‘Before Period’, such as before giving a presentation in front of the class. Try to reduce the anticipation by avoiding dragging out a long conversation before hand.

Lastly, kids are very perceptive and pick up on our reactions and behaviors. If you experience anxiety or high stress, they are going to notice how you handle it and imitate that response. If you let them see you managing that stress and anxiety calmly, working through it, and feeling good about making it to the other side of the moment, they will imitate that too.


To get your child and family help with anxiety please schedule an initial consultation with one of our our amazing clinicians!


Written by Emily Brown