Why isn’t therapy working for my anxious child?

This is such a useful question and I’m really glad that a listener submitted it. Now the poster didn’t say what they meant by “working” so I’m going to assume that their anxious child is still anxious even though they’re in therapy and that’s how I’m going to answer it. So. Why isn’t the therapy working? Why is your child still anxious?

There could be several reasons. Let’s walk through them.

First of all, it may be the wrong therapist for your child. The greatest predictor of therapeutic success, meaning the client makes progress towards their goals, is a good fit therapist and that means different things for different people. Same goes for kids. Think about all the teachers you had growing up. I’m sure you liked some of them more than others. Just being a teacher doesn’t make you the best teacher for every student. My very most favorite teacher, Mrs. Schwartz, made my third grade an absolute dream. Then when my little brother got her, his third grade didn’t go as well. She just wasn’t the same personality fit for him that she was for me.

If you’re not sure if the therapist is a good fit, ask your child and ask the therapist. How do they think things are going? Is the child participating? Are they sharing in session? Does the therapist feel like they have a handle on what’s going on? 

A wrong therapy fit may also be that the therapist doesn’t see things in the same way that the family does — whether that’s the parent or the child. Let’s pretend a therapist is working with the Ingall’s family, you know from Little House on the PrairieCarrie was always kind of nervous in those books, right? So maybe the family brings Carrie to therapy and the therapist says, “Your family needs to quit moving around all of the time. This constant traveling around the country is a covered wagon is too disruptive for a child like Carrie.” And the family’s like, “Hey, listen, that’s how we do things. Telling us to just stop isn’t helpful or realistic.” See, that might be a poor fit. They might do better with a therapist who’s like, “Yeah, my dad moved us a lot, too, I get it. I know how it is. I can totally address this with Carrie in session.” 

It may be that therapy isn’t working because the therapist has a different conceptualization of what’s going on. So make sure you know what the treatment plan is — what are the goals? Maybe your child isn’t reaching them because you and the therapist have totally different ideas about what should be happening next. Maybe you’re hoping they deal with your child’s sleep problems and they’re working on test anxiety. Keep those lines of communication open so that  you’re sharing and collaborating.   

Sometimes, especially with younger children, the therapist isn’t offering developmentally appropriate interventions. Working with kids is a specialized skill that requires specialized training. I remember talking to one family who took their kindergartener to someone who said they worked with younger kids but had no toys in their office other than an antique tin ferris wheel that the child wasn’t allowed to touch. The younger the child is, the more therapy should be play-focused.

Another reason that your child’s therapy may not be working is because your child isn’t interesting in changing. Now there are ways to work on motivating an unmotivated child or teen for sure but ultimately we cannot force ANYONE to behave differently if they don’t want to. Some children resent being in therapy and won’t participate. Some children will perform well in therapy — doing what the therapist asks, answering questions — but it’s all surface-level and the child is unwilling or unable to bring that work out into the real world. 

Lots of times kids are coming to therapy not because they want to be there but because their parents have decided they need to be there. Or the child is willing to come but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to really participate. The anxious child might not be interested in learning new skills or facing their fears. They might not care whether or not their parents stop nagging because their fear is greater than their discomfort with their parents’ reactions.

I’ll tell you that my bias is not to send kids to therapy against their will. Especially if they’re anxious children. That’s because therapy is likely to be something they will want or need later on in their life and I think it’s important that they have a good feeling about it. I have a strong pro-therapy bias, obviously, and I don’t think anyone especially kids should be coerced into going because it’s likely to give them a bad feeling about counseling and make it more difficult for them to reach out when they’re ready.

Another reason therapy might not be working is that the parent isn’t doing their part in creating change. I’m not blaming the parent here. Sometimes this is because they don’t even know they’re supposed to be doing anything. If the therapist isn’t sharing that with them, how would they? 

Even if an anxious child is in therapy, if their environment isn’t shifting to supporting instead of accommodating their anxiety, then the anxiety will continue. And even if the child is making progress in session if they aren’t getting the opportunity to practice coping, to confront their anxiety, and deal with their discomfort then the progress will only exist in session.

In my own clinical practice a frequent challenge would be that I would work with a child on an anti-anxiety plan that was clear, that the child agreed to, and was committed to, and was ready to implement and then they would take that plan home with the parent and the parent would unintentionally undermine it. The child would be ready to do the difficult thing — whether that was to confront the challenge at school or socially — and the parent in an effort to be helpful would undo that child’s hard work and preparation by questioning them or reassuring them or interrupting the process.

This could look like a child about to step on stage and the parent says, “Are you sure you’re ready?”

Or the child is trying to sleep alone and becomes tearful and the parent says, “Do you just want to try tomorrow?”

Basically the child may be doing the prep work but still needs their parent to hold the boundaries and to remind them of their skills.

No matter how often I was telling the parent they needed to do this part, for some parents it was just really hard. They needed more direction and more encouragement which is why ultimately I shifted to working directly with parents. As I dug into the research, it became clear that the real key to change for anxious children and teens is their parents. If the parents can do their part, then the children — even without therapy — are able to do theirs. 

I personally think an ideal situation is the anxious child would be in therapy with a good fit therapist and the child’s parents would be working in or with a program like mine. That one-two punch is the best bet to learning to deal with child anxiety. If a therapist isn’t available for the child — and I know there’s a shortage right now — or the child is unwilling to go, that doesn’t have to stop the parents from doing their own learning and shifting the way they deal with anxiety in their home. 

I’m curious, if therapy hasn’t worked for your child, which of these issues do you think was contributing to that? Or was it something I didn’t mention here? Feel free to let me know and reach out if you have any questions or thoughts. 



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How do I change my anxious child?

Our question this week is simplified for the podcast title but it’s part of a longer question. The asker described their situation — they have an anxious child, the child is older elementary age, and the child isn’t interested in dealing with their anxiety often melting down when the parent attempts to talk to them about it. And the parent wants to know, how do I get my child’s buy in. How do I talk them into dealing with their anxiety. How do I make them change.

The short answer is you can’t. We can’t make anyone change. If you get into a power struggle with your child, you have already lost. They are better rested than you and they aren’t going to get distracted by things like needing to pay the mortgage or laundry. So before you try to change your child, give up on changing your child.

But just because you can’t win a power struggle doesn’t mean that you’re not powerful because you are. You are in charge of the environment and you are in charge of yourself and what you choose to do. So those are things you can and you should focus on changing.

At the heart of child anxiety is their relationship with you. That’s where we find the answers in treating their anxiety. You hold the key. And all of the hard work that you’ve done to build a loving, respectful, and responsive relationship is going to pay off when you turn your attention to helping your child meet the challenges of their anxiety. 

This is true for all facets of parenting and there’s a paradox at play here and in fact at play in all of parenting. That is that you are deeply essentially part of your child and they are entirely their own person having their own experience. It’s within this paradox that change happens.

Let me explain.

In parenting, especially in highly attuned and connected parenting, we and our children are sharing experiences. We are catching each other’s moods. We are impacting each other’s functioning. If your child is in a bad mood, you might feel bad and vice versa. If you are worried about something, your child might catch your worry. We are living in the same space. You are choosing fundamental experiences for them like the food they put in their bodies and the clothes they put on their backs. You are choosing where you both live. Whether or not details like open windows, colors of carpet, the presence of pets. You share relationships with other family members and other people outside the family. 

At the same time, you are having entirely separate experiences. You may love the open window and your child might find the sounds coming in from the street annoying or upsetting. You may be struggling with your child’s other parent and they are full of adoration for that other parent. You may serve oatmeal for breakfast and buy them a cozy sweater for chilly days and they may insist on Lucky Charms and choose to wear their favorite tee shirt no matter how cold it is that day.

And you may want them to deal with their anxiety and they are strongly committed to the avoidance that makes their anxiety worse. You can’t change that for them. You can’t change their commitment. You can’t talk them into it. So you will have to change yourself.

One of the most important things you can and should do is realize that your child’s anxiety belongs to them. It is part of their journey as a human being. Your anxiety — even if your anxiety is about them — belongs to you, not them. You have to figure that piece out. I talk to parents who get confused — where does their anxiety leave off and their child’s begin? Or they don’t know how to tease out the differences between them.

This essential separation is at the heart of parenting. It’s the work we’re doing for 18 plus years with an emphasis on the plus. We are dancing the weaning dance all of our parenting careers — figuring out when to step in, when to step away, when to offer support or advice, and when to let it go. Very often any conflict we are feeling in our relationship with our child goes back to this essential work. Either they are wanting more separation or we are wanting more separation and we are constantly pushing and pulling to figure it out.

It’s inevitable that we’re going to make some mistakes and step on each other’s toes. I think there is so much learning in these conflicts. Anytime you’re hitting a point where you are fed up with parenting in general or your child in particular, you can look to see at it’s roots there is this push/pull happening.

This is especially true with anxiety. 

You cannot make your child learn the skills they need to handle their anxious emotions but you can offer them. You can make them part of your family culture in the same way that you have shared your other beliefs, your other expectations, and your other everyday routines. You can show them by internalizing and practicing these skills yourself. You can use them to deal with any anxiety you have about your child’s anxiety. Children learn directly but also through observation. A child who is reluctant or resistant to learning is not going to be happy when you tell them to learn anyway. But if you do the learning yourself, they’re going to pick up on it. 

You can also decide your boundaries. Remember that your child’s experience of anxiety is theirs. But your experience of raising an anxious child is yours and you get to decide how you’d like to manage that. If you are experiencing frustration or unhappiness because your child’s anxiety seems to be demanding particular behavior from you, you can choose whether or not to continue with that behavior, to cease it altogether, or to change it. When you change things — whether it’s your behavior, or the environment — that will change things for your child. 

When we recognize and address the parenting pitfalls of anxiety, and change what we do, that’s how our child changes. 

Child anxiety tends to enmesh parents and children. It gets us all tangled up and forgetting or misunderstanding what belongs to us and what belongs to them. It’s the parental dilemma but on steroids. If you are unsure of where to start, I encourage you to go to childanxietysupport.com/pitfalls that will lead you to my quiz based on the research about how parents get stuck in parenting their anxious kids. Once you’ve taken it if you have questions, please reach out to me. 

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How do we know when to push our anxious child and when not to push?

How can we tell between a child’s anxiety about an activity and their genuine dislike for an activity? 

This is such a good question but I’m afraid I”m going to disappoint you with not such a great answer and that is, you might not be able to tell. And in fact, your child might not be able to tell.

And part of that is because if you think about it, we’ve got reason to dislike doing things that scare us. It’s why I’m never going to learn to ski. Going down hill fast is my idea of a terrible time because it scares me. I wear the brakes out on my bike because I keep ‘em on when I’m going down hills.

So I dislike going fast downhill and I dislike it because it scares me; it’s not fun. 

But using my brakes on my bike and not learning to ski doesn’t hamper my life in any way. Now someone who loves to ski might say I’m missing out but it’s a choice I’m perfectly content to make. 

On the other hand, there are other ways I’ve confronted my fears like public speaking. It scares the heck out of me but I’ve also learned to enjoy it. The results are worth it to me. So I have had opportunity to face my fears and learn to cope with my anxiety to access the opportunities I want to access.

With kids it’s harder because they don’t really have the far range thinking to figure out what’s worth it and what’s not. So we have to be part of that decision-making with them, which is really difficult. For one thing, we might have strong feelings about what’s worth it and what’s not.

If I’d grown up in a family where skiing was my parents’ favorite winter sport, maybe I would have conquered that fear because it would have been part of the family functioning to go skiing. I don’t know. Maybe it would have been worth it, right? To not miss out with the family. Or maybe I would have thrown such a fuss that I would have stayed at the lodge sipping cocoa. 

It depends on a lot, doesn’t it?

When you’re trying to figure it out, you’re going to have to look at the big picture. Generally anxious kids have anxiety that shows up in many different places. Figuring out where to address it, where to start, is part of figuring out how to parent a child with anxiety. 

How we make decisions in addressing our child’s worry will depend on how we consider a number of things:

  1. How is our family functioning? Where are we — all of us — struggling most? 
  2. How is our child’s functioning? Where are they feeling most limited or unhappy?
  3. How much time and energy do we have to tackle things right now? Are we ready to dive in and do big work? Or do we need to focus on small wins?
  4. How anxious is our child? Are we talking about every day niggling fears or are we talking about great big disruptive meltdowns?
  5. How motivated is our child? How interested are they in change?
  6. Are there skills we need to address first either in ourselves or our child? Are we able to cope when they’re not able to cope?

It’s a long list and we haven’t really dug into the details involved in each of those decisions. They’re all worth a conversation. 

Choosing where to address our child’s anxiety is intensely person. It depends so much on what we value and what we hope our children will value. If we know our child meltdown when we push, we have to know what’s worth pushing and how to do the pushing so there’s growth. 

We need to be realistic about our kids and their capacity

And we also need to be realistic about ourselves. Learning to parent an anxious child means shifting our perspective as well as changing our behavior. That perspective change is critical and that’s a bigger challenge than remembering to respond with this when our child does that. We need to know why we respond that way and we need to buy into it. 

For some kids and families we need to start super small. We need some easy wins before we head to the big targets. This is especially true for very sensitive children and very sensitive parents. We need time to acclimate and experience ourselves as a family that can do this hard work. 

For super motivated kids and families, we can start with the heavy hitters. We can sprint right to the top and dive into bigger exposures.

As an example, we might have two families with 10-year olds who are still asking parents to stay in their room until they fall asleep and that’s where the parents are hoping to see some change.

But maybe one child is dealing with the recent death of a beloved pet. Or is having a hard time in school. Or has no interest in sleeping alone. And the other child is more motivated. Or has less pressing worries outside of sleep. 

And we can look at the parents. Maybe the parent of one child has been working overtime. Or is worried about budgeting for the holidays. Or gets completely wound up when their child is crying. On the other hand, the other parent has a good friend who has offered to sit with them while they deal with bedtime. Or has a great meditation practice that helps them stay calm. Or is just fed up enough that they’re clear that this is what they want to do.

Any combination of this — a motivated child but a waffling parent or vice versa — makes it a whole unique proposition.

You know you’re pushing too much when you get overwhelmed either with your own emotional reactions or with your child’s. The people who I work with don’t tend to be people who are unreasonable with their kids. I tend to work with people who identify as gentle parents or respectful parents or attachment parents — there are a lot of terms that basically mean highly attuned, thoughtful, sensitive parents who care deeply about their parenting. These parents tend to go much easier on their kids than on themselves. They tend to sacrifice their own well being for the sake of their children in ways that don’t serve the family well. So I am less concerned that they are being too pushy with their anxious children and more concerned that they are pulling back too soon.

Or they are focusing on one area that is less important than another. So they are putting their energy in an anxious area that doesn’t necessarily align with their family values because they are trying to do what they think they ought to do. Parents of anxious kids — especially the ones who act out — are generally dealing with a lot of criticism and concern from others. Sometimes what we need to do is get really honest about what matters to us most. Maybe we don’t care about sitting with a sleep 10-year old but we do really want them to go to soccer practice.

See, those are very personal decisions. 

When you’re trying to figure out when to push and when not to push, I’d say where are you and your child most unhappy? Where is the easiest win? Start with that easy win and build on it. You both need to start experiencing your child as someone who is capable and brave. That can be very tiny. It can be a child who tolerates being alone on one floor of the house for two minutes longer than they used to tolerate it. Celebrate that success and go a little further. When you’ve got a handle in that area, look for where you’d like to take those skills next.

When it comes to parenting anxious kids, it’s a dance we’ll be doing all of our lives together. We’ll always be learning how to support without creating dependency, how to cheer them up even when we ourselves are scared, how to cope with our anxiety as we continue to celebrate their growth.

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What if my child’s anxiety is rooted in real fear?

The example that came in with this question was specifically about a child who was being bullied at school and so was afraid to go to school. Well, that’s not an anxiety disorder, that’s appropriate anxiety. If the situation is not safe then the child’s anxiety is serving its purpose. That is what anxiety is supposed to do. We cannot address anxiety unless things are safe.

So before we can face our anxiety, we need to be clear. Is this appropriate anxiety? Is it keeping us safe from something that is truly dangerous? Or is it dysfunctional anxiety? Is it keeping us from growing through our lives?

Sometimes this is an easy thing to figure out. If you have a child who is afraid of your neighbor’s friendly toothless basset hound, that’s pretty simple. A friendly toothless basset hound is unlikely to be harmful. You can definitely do some exposures to help your child confront their anxiety in that situation.

But sometimes it’s more challenging. If a child is refusing school because they are being bullied as in our questioners situation, then school is not safe. If a child is refusing school because they were once being bullied but now are safe and are protected from the bully or the bully has been removed, that’s a bit more complicated. 

It will take careful planning because we’re not just dealing with the anxiety, the child also needs support in healing from the experience of being bullied.

In other words, if a child’s anxiety is rooted in appropriate fear then we need to get them safe. It is not dysfunctional anxiety; it is protective anxiety. 

Once the child is safe, facing their anxiety in supported ways can be a truly healing experience. This might mean trauma-informed counseling. This might mean helping the child connect to resources that allow them to see themselves as someone who can access supports and advocate for themselves.This also might mean changing the environment entirely, for example, if that particular school is an overall poor fit, changing the school is not avoiding; it’s choosing a better fit. 

I want to stop for a minute and dig into this a bit more from the parents perspective. Because it’s been my experience that we, as parents, often need to address our own neglected experiences of harm in order to take care of our anxious kids. Sometimes we struggle to assess for safety because we ourselves struggle, due to our own anxiety, to know what is safe. 

I’ll use a very clear example from my own life. I have always been afraid of water. I think, as an aside, that this is related to undiagnosed and unaddressed vestibular and proprioceptive sensory issues. In any case, I am very afraid when I am in water over my head. It’s something I avoid. Because of this, it was difficult for me to watch my children swim in deep water. Heck, I can’t even watch the shipwreck scenes in Castaway. I mean it, this is a big fear of mine. Anyway, because of this I was not involved in teaching my kids to swim. I had to farm that out. I also had to sometimes walk away when they were swimming with their dad. I just can’t really assess safety in those situations. I know this about myself and I built supports that allowed my children to grow despite my own anxiety. They both love to swim. I’m never gonna like it but that’s ME. I can’t visit that on them without limiting their lives.

Like I said, that’s a very clear example. 

Other examples from my own life are more challenging. I also struggle with social anxiety and so when my kids had a social challenge it could be difficult for me to assess whether or not the situation was truly safe. I can look objectively at them swimming in a pool with an attentive adult nearby and know it’s ok even if it feels scary to me. That’s not necessarily true with social situations. 

In those cases, it took more effort to figure out what was mine and what was theirs. This became particularly salient when my daughter, who had been homeschooled all through elementary school, decided to attend middle school.

Can we just stop and acknowledge the tremendous bravery of this kid who decided her first introduction to traditional school would be in seventh grade. Needless to say, my own experience of middle school was terrible. I say that it’s needless to say because ain’t that the truth for many of us. In particular I did have a bully in eighth grade so when my daughter dealt with some mean kids, I had to work very hard to recognize that her experience was not my experience. That her school was altogether a safer, more attentive environment than mine was. That she had parents who were involved and able to coach her through difficult social situations, while my parents were simply unable to be there for me in that way. In short, I had to recognize that her anxiety was not my fear and so she could safely confront it.

I didn’t need to pull her out of school. I didn’t need to march to the guidance counselor’s office and demand that they move my child to another classroom. I didn’t need to call up the other kids’ parents and ask for a mediation. In short, while our situations had similarities, my daughter was safe. She was anxious, for sure, but she was safe. And so we were able to come up with a plan that allowed her to confront her anxiety, deal with the bully, and grow stronger through the experience.

SWhen we check for safety around our child’s anxiety — when we stop and assess are they safe? Is their anxiety protective? Or is it limiting? We also need to check in and see if we need to address our own history and take care of some old wounds.

This is all very tricky. I often say that parenting is the most triggering thing you can do. It’s hard work. It’s heavy lifting. But ultimately I believe that our experiences in parenting are opportunities for growth and healing.

I think sometimes in an effort to be clear and concise, I send the message that anxiety is always and easily cured by exposure and that’s definitely an oversimplification. Anxiety is complex, people are complex. Exposures, frankly, are also complex. Addressing anxiety must be personalized and fit not just the individual but also the individual’s family. School refusal is one situation that brings up all of this. The child’s real experience, the child’s perceived experience, the child’s temperament, goodness of fit in the school, the family’s history, the family’s needs, the surrounding culture. And on and on and on. 

There’s not one right way to do this. There’s not a singular best practice. It’s personal. If you need support, you know what to do. Reach out. Let’s talk. 

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Why do kids love to play about things that scare them?

This is part of a longer question so let me set up the scenario for you. The parent has a 5-year old and this 5-year old saw part of a scary movie when they were visiting cousins. It sounds like it was a horror movie but the parent didn’t give a lot of details about it. In any case, the child is now obsessed with this movie particularly in their play. Like pretending to be the bad guy or pretending to run from the bad guy. But the child is also still clearly scared because they’re having trouble sleeping and say it’s because of the movie.

So why is that? Why do these themes come up in their play? If they find it so scary, then why do they keep coming back to it?

I’ve seen this with other kids around real life scenarios, for example, a child who saw a tree in their yard come down during a storm and becomes obsessed with the weather or makes a point of seeking out big trees on the playground. Or a child is scared of robbers at bedtime but always wants to play robbers at recess. Or you might be seeing this with your own child around Halloween decorations right now, being scared of them and also kind of obsessed with them. 

To understand what’s going on here we need to understand how children process things. We process things by talking, right? If we have a worry we generally want to talk it out. 

Children do this, too, but they also process things through play. The younger they are, the more we’ll see these themes — these anxious themes — show up in play. This is one reason why play therapists keep certain toys around, certain standard toys like a doctor’s kit. Lots of kids worry about the doctor and lots of kids need to process scary parts of it like getting shots and so doctor’s kits give them a way to do that.

I can’t tell you the number of kids who would spend their entire therapeutic hour giving me shots over and over again. They loved it and they would direct me to be scared. They’d say, “You have to get a shot and you should be crying.” 

This is the way they work to make sense of it and also to give themselves some control over it.

Learning that we have control over our lives is one way we learn to manage our anxiety about what is NOT controllable. When children play with things that scare them or make them anxious, it helps them to explore it under their own steam. If a thing has happened TO them that they did not expect or welcome — like a falling tree, or a scary movie, or the sudden appearance of an animatronic witch in the yard of the house next door — talking about it helps them process and move through it.

But just like We may need to talk about it so much that we start to bore our friends or even ourselves children can get stuck in their play and may need our help to move on. They may need us to help solve the problem they’re repeating. 

How can you tell? Given that repetitive play — like giving your therapists a million flu shots — can be part of processing, how can you tell when they’re stuck?

Look for small changes in their play. They may up the ante, like begin to give the shot more ferociously. Or they may start explaining more ahead of time. Or they may offer more comfort after the shot. Even small changes show that they are working with their fear and exploring its limits and its control.

What is their attitude about the play? Do they seem like they’re having fun? Are they gleeful? Or are they worried? Do they seem more upset after playing or do they seem relieved or ready to move on?  Children may become “obsessed” with things that scare them. If they seem controlled by the play rather than controlling it, that’s Alan an indicator that they’re stuck.

If they don’t seem stuck, if their play seems enjoyable, if they’re mostly having fun and if you see changes however small, they likely don’t need our help. 

If your child does seem trapped in their play then you can do things to help them get unstuck. You can show them a way out. IN the therapy room we use a lot of cages or other traps. I had a whole set of toys that represented typical childhood fears like skeletons and mean guys and spiders and zombies — and kids loved to put them in jail or bury them in the sand tray and put the lid on top. 

You can offer that, too. Let your imagination go and think about ways to conquer fear through play.

Now one thing I want to mention is that sometimes anxious play can be upsetting to us. For example, a child may connect more with a bad guy. They may want to be Darth Vader in the big good vs evil battle. We might worry — why are they identifying with the wrong side? Well, the answer to that might be as simple as Darth Vader is kind of cool. He’s got a great voice and a cape. It also might be that pretending to be the thing that kind of scares us is a great way to master that fear. Pretending to be the robber means the robber can’t scare you anymore.

It’s just another way to process things.

This is also why at certain ages kids might be obsessed with fighting or weapons. They’re trying to feel safe. Play is a safe way to practice being safe. And it’s imaginary, remember that. It’s no more an expression of real wants and wishes than our watching Breaking Bad is a sign that we all want to cook meth. Adults play via video games, TV shows, and reading books, right? And kids play by playing. 

Play — as long as no one is getting hurt — should have free range. Again, that means no one has to play when they don’t want to, no one should be forced to play in a way that they don’t like — but if everyone is safe and having fun then it’s fine. We adults sometimes get hung up on play — about what it means, about how it’s happening — but especially if we recognize play as a way to work through tough issues, we need to let kids do the things that they do. 

Now one thing though. When we say “fun” in regards to play, it kind of diminishes the importance of play. Maybe I should use the term “satisfying” instead. Play is truly a child’s work. It is how they process and experience and learn to manage the world. It is vital. And it’s often outside of the understanding of adults who want play to be clean and clear and, I guess, nice. Play is not always nice. It’s serious. It’s important. It matters to children deeply.

If you want to read a good descriptions of play, check out the third chapter of the book Ramona the Brave. It’s a great book about child anxiety (if you haven’t read it or don’t remember, it’s the one where Ramona is afraid of the gorilla without bones) and the description of Ramona and her buddy Howie playing brick factory is a terrific reminder of what play can be. I’ll leave you with this short description of their play,

“Brick Factory, [is] a simple but satisfying game. Each grasped a rock in both hands and with it pounded a brick into pieces and the pieces into smithereens. The pounding was hard, tiring work. Pow! Pow! Pow! Then they reduced the smithereens to dust. Crunch, crunch, crunch. They were no longer six-year-olds. They were the strongest people in the world. They were giants.”

from Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary

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Is it better to make my anxious child sleep on their own?

Last week we talked about whether or not co-sleeping causes separation anxiety and concluded that no, it’s more complicated than that and this week’s question is related so I scheduled them right next to each other. This one is: Is it better to make my anxious child sleep on their own? Let’s go through the whole question with some details disguised to protect the confidentiality of the family. This family has an older child — older elementary — who wants to sleep with heir parents because when they sleep alone, they wake up afraid and come in. The parents find this disruptive for everyone’s sleep but also want to be supportive. They want to know, is it better to ask their child to sleep on their own even when they’re scared? Or is it better to give in and let them climb into bed with their parents.

As I said last week, this is a super common question so it’s no surprise it came up from two different families in the audience so close together. 

Let’s get away from “better” as an adjective because it implies a “worse.” Instead let’s ask, “Which is more effective in supporting my child in their anxiety.”

Now you might remember last week I said that if a family is happy co-sleeping, then great. Go for it. But this family is not and I totally understand. It’s ok to want to sleep by yourself. Will you be doing your child damage if you insist on it? Even if they’re scared? No.

Let me explain more about that.

Sometimes parents share their concern that asking their child to face their fears will be traumatizing. So let’s talk about it.

First let’s consider the context of the parent-child relationship. Is this a relationship where the child is getting their basic physical and emotional needs met? Like are you supplying food, clothing, shelter, and basic emotional support? Is this relationship a safe place for your child to share their feelings? Is it safe for them to be less than perfect? Is there unconditional positive regard — a general love, respect, and acceptance for the child themselves? And note, this does not mean blanket approval for their behavior or every little thing they do, it means for themselves, who they are. So it’s perfectly ok to grouch about them leaving their dirty dishes in the sink. And it’s ok to not want them to climb into bed with you. 

Rejecting behaviors is not the same thing as rejecting them.

In a generally loving, respectful relationship where children are generally getting their needs met there is not just room to demand more of them — like that they learn to sleep alone — it’s also necessary. 

It is not traumatizing to be reminded that children are separate from their parents. They are meant to grow and to outgrow us. If they rely on us too much — beyond what is developmentally appropriate — that is more likely to be damage them than if we push. Gently but firmly pushing our kids is part of parenting. It’s a tricky balance. We want to push enough that the reluctant growers learn to grow but not so much that we push them beyond that which they are capable. And that’s where parents of anxious kids get stuck. But I want you to lean on that loving, respectful relationship. When they’re toddlers we stop them from running into the street even if they really want to, even if it makes them really mad. Right? We protect them and ask them to learn the rules by reminding them and they grow. They grow and learn the rules and learn not to run into the street and they might hate us in the moment but they don’t hate us. It doesn’t hurt the relationship.

Likewise, an anxious child who wants to co-sleep isn’t going to like it if their parents say no. But that doesn’t mean the parents should automatically say yes. Instead the parents can set those boundaries. When we say no to the anxious child, we are saying, “I believe you have the capacity to handle this. I believe you have the capacity to grow through it.”

Now some kids need more support. They need us to help them make a plan. This is what the child Anxiety Support program is all about. It’s about making that plan — with all the information and research we have about anxiety, with all the lessons I offer to better understand your child — and then executing that plan. With lots of help and opportunities to share anti-anxiety skills with your child. So. Jus know that if you’re struggling with that whole making a plan thing.

Back to trusting your relationship with your child

What we know is that connection mitigates trauma. This is something Bruce Perry teaches about in his neurosequential model. I’m going to simplify it by a lot with this example. Imagine you have two young children who both lost their homes in a fire. One child has been in and out of foster care, does not have a strong relationship with a caregiver and the other child is in a home with a loving, supportive and consistent good enough caregiver. We know that the child without strong relationships is going to struggle more with the trauma of the fire than the child who does have those safe, consistent caregivers. That’s because we are built to withstand trauma in the context of appropriate community. It doesn’t mean we won’t have trauma — it doesn’t mean that losing your house in a fire won’t bother you — but it means that this child will have greater capacity to heal.

Your child — in that generally loving, respectful relationship — can handle hard things like facing their anxiety. It doesn’t mean they’ll like it. It doesn’t mean they’ll be thrilled when you push them but it does mean that with a developmentally appropriate clear plan, strong supports, and realistic expectations they can indeed handle it.

When we don’t make a plan. When we continue to let their anxiety guide the family decision making, we are far more likely to be causing harm because what we’re doing is telling them that they’re right. They can’t handle it. They aren’t strong enough. It is too dangerous. 

Now this doesn’t mean just kicking them out of the bedroom and telling them they’re on their own. Remember, I’m talking about making a plan. The plan says, I know it’ll be tough but you can handle it. Here’s what you can do instead. The plan says, You are strong enough. Here are some of the skills you can draw on. The plan says, you are safe and protected.

Again, if you’re having a hard time creating and sticking with a plan, that’s what my membership is all about. 



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Does co-sleeping make separation anxiety worse?

Co-sleeping for anyone not in the know is also called bed sharing or family bed and basically it describes parents who sleep with their kids. That’s it. That can mean anything from kids who climb into their parents bed after a nightmare to kids who start out in their parents’ bed or whose families have one big bed made up of a lot of mattresses and everybody piles in.

How we sleep is a cultural decision. Not just the whole broad culture, although obviously we are impacted by our social mores, but also a family culture decision.

Lots of families co-sleep and I have no opinion whatsoever about that as long as everyone is more or less happy and is getting enough sleep.

This is one of those parenting decisions that I don’t think you can take out of context of the family functioning and say it is GOOD or BAD. It’s neutral.

It’s good if your family likes it and it works and it’s bad if your family doesn’t like it and it doesn’t work. OK?

So just to be clear about that. I have no bias about whether or not you should co-sleep with your kids, it’s a personal decision.

But. Does it cause separation anxiety? Well, there I have some thoughts and I’m gonna share them.

First let’s define separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety describes kids who struggle to separate from their parents beyond when it is developmentally appropriate. We except kids to go through periods of separation anxiety. We know that older infants — around 8 months or so — start to cling to the parents. This is the age where babies that were perfectly happy to get passed around stop liking it. 

The rise in separation anxiety in infants goes along with their developing object permanence, which means that your baby is learning that things continue to exist even after they can’t see them. That gives them the ability to hold their parent in their mind even after that parent has left, which gives them the ability to miss you thus separation anxiety.

This continues into toddlerhood but we shouldn’t be surprised when it crops up later when kids are challenged in new ways. For example, it’s not atypical for a preschooler or even a kindergartener to cry when they’re left at school for the first time. Generally they’re growing out of it so even if they are upset, they’ve learned how to tolerate their discomfort long enough to acclimate to their new environment. 

Separation anxiety disorder is when the child is not able to acclimate. A 4-year old who is a little tearful and doesn’t want their parent to leave that first week of school may be typical but a 6-year old who is struggling might need some extra consideration. Or a 4-year old who doesn’t eventually get comfortable but stays distressed. We’d also want to make a note of that. That’s a sign of true anxiety, not just a developmentally appropriate reaction.

And yes, we see separation anxiety at bedtime when those kids need to separate from their caregivers. It’s one reason some children struggle to go to bed. Not always, of course, some kids just want to stay up where the action is but children who insist on parents lying down with them or who won’t stay in bed unless their parents do, that can be a sign of separation anxiety.

Now let’s be clear, co-sleeping doesn’t cause this. Co-sleeping may happen in reaction to it. If a parent feels unable to leave their upset child or gives in to tears and let’s them sleep in the big bed, that’s a reaction. The parent is reacting to the child’s distress. 

So co-sleeping doesn’t cause it but you can see that it can perpetuate it.

Again, if the whole family is happy with this scenario then there are no worries. But if the family is unhappy with the scenario then something needs to change.

That’s the thing about anxiety. Some of it is situationally dependent. For example, it’s common in other countries for adult children to continue to live with their parents. This doesn’t cause separation anxiety but some adult children live with their parents because of their anxiety.

Or think about a city like New York City. Lots of people there don’t have driver’s licenses because they don’t need them. It’s got nothing to do with anxiety about driving a car. That said, sometimes not having a driver’s license as an adult may be an anxiety symptom. How do we know the difference? It’s about how people feel about it. If someone wants more independence but is afraid to drive that’s an anxiety issue. 

If an adult child wants to move out of their parents’ house but is afraid they aren’t capable, that’s an anxiety issue. Or if a parent wants an adult child to move out of the house but the child is afraid that they aren’t capable, that’s an anxiety issue AND it’s a boundary issue for the parents.

Likewise, if you don’t want to co-sleep and your child is insisting on it, that may be an anxiety issue and it’s definitely a boundary issue for the parents. In other words, the parents are going to have to figure out how to set and hold boundaries in ways that are appropriate for themselves, for their child, and for the family as a whole. Which is, as I said, very personal.

Sometimes I work with families where there is definitely separation anxiety present particularly around bedtime, which is what brings the family in to the program. I also work with families where there is definitely anxiety present including around bedtime, but they’re not concerned about that and are more concerned about the presentation elsewhere like getting the child off to school or going to playdates or letting mom pee with the door shut. That’s fine. We can focus on the issue that is causing the family grief. We do not need to start with areas where the family has not identified a problem. I do think it makes sense to consider it — are we ok with the co-sleeping? is there a point when we might want it to shift? — but ultimately the family gets to decide what works best for them.

What I have found is that when we’re doing good work around separation anxiety that the family is able to make appropriate individualized decisions about things like co-sleeping and babysitters and homeschooling. Every family has different expectations and limits around those things but when things are generally becoming more healthy, it becomes easier to know what to do in those situations.


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What causes child anxiety and how do you fix it?

This week’s question isn’t one that has been sent my way. It’s one I’ve ginned up to give me an excuse to address a bunch of smaller questions.

I’m using this question to explain that there are a lot of reasons why your child might have a brain that is more prone to anxiety and so there are a lot of ways to address is. 

Anxiety is a helpful, healthy part of being human but some of us, as you know, are more prone to dysfunctional anxiety than others and that might be because of genetics. We can inherit the shape of our brains from our parents. 

It also can be learned. We may learn how to be anxious by watching our caregivers. 

There might be a trauma history and not just big T trauma — like a cataclysmic event or an act of violence — but also little t trauma, which might be harder to identify or not generally recognized as a trauma. This might be something like a difficult birth or an early separation. 

Anxiety can also be part of another diagnosis such as ADHD or autism. 

It might be caused by other health issues. For example, sometimes children with gut issues or celiac are more anxious and that can be a chicken and egg scenario where it’s difficult to tell if anxiety caused the stomach problems or the stomach problems caused anxiety. 

Children may have allergies or sensory issues that make their bodies feel more anxious. It’s hard to feel calm if we’re itchy or if we’re struggling to know where our body is in space or if our vision or hearing is overwhelmed.

The reason this is so complicated is that we complicated. We are mind and body and spirit and we are also our relationships. We exist in community and this is especially true for children who spend their growing up leaning on us — asking their parents to complete them — until they are old enough to stand on their own. And that takes longer than you think, especially for anxious kids. 

The many different treatments for child anxiety depend on how the professional is conceptualize what’s going on, which depends on their training and their theoretical mindset. 

As someone trained in child development and clinical mental health, I see things through the lens of mind and relationships. More specifically the family system and the relationship between parent and child. That is my go to, that is where my research and understanding is, and that is where my skills lie. 

But what I do is not the singular answer. It can be. For some families that’s where the healing begins and end but for other families — in fact I’d say for most families — it’s just part of the puzzle.

This is one reason why I host Eve Hermann, of Source Embodiment. Eve is a licensed massage therapist, cranial sacral practitioner and somatic experiencing professional in my Child Anxiety Support membership each month. She understands the body and the brain from a perspective that is different than my own. Her training is different, her background is different, and the solutions she offers are complementary because they are different. There’s tremendous value in having more than one way of considering your experience and your child’s experience with anxiety.

Your family’s healing — and your child’s journey — might include working with someone like her. It might include medication, working with an allopathic doctor. It might mean working with an occupational therapist or a pediatric chiropractor. It might mean examining your child’s physical surroundings whether that’s school or your home to see if there are things you can do to make it a better fit. You might bring in an executive functioning coach or a professional organizer to create a more supportive environment.

I don’t want this to seem overwhelming. Instead I want you to understand that helping your child, helping your family, and helping your self is an opportunity to explore what works. It’s not just about some magical fix; it’s about finding opportunities to grow and learn about what we need and how we can flourish.

Often what families need is a mix of services or supports. For example, a child with an auditory processing disorder needs this identified and addressed as part of anxiety treatment. Or a parent who is completely stressed out can’t focus on the kind of intervention we plan in the program. They may benefit from starting an exercise routine or learning to meditate or getting a weekly massage. When we are anxious we can’t access that higher order brain that lets us plan, that lets us follow through, that lets us offer our children the regulation they may need to borrow to get through their anxious challenges. Again, that’s why I’m so grateful that Eve is in our site. She offers a monthly exercise to guide us towards calm.

I think it’s important to understand that no single professional, no particular modality is a silver bullet. Child anxiety can’t be cured in one session with any particular expert or healer; It’s more of a long commitment to healing and growth and every family has their own particular pathway.

I met with a pediatric chiropractor here in town the other day. Her name is Dr. Gabby and she’s at the inside space here in Columbus. I’ll link to both her and Eve in my show notes. Anyway, Dr. Gabby says that working with her families is like a dance where she is participating in the experience with her clients, trusting them to show her what they need. She observes and listens and brings her expertise in choosing how to respond. I totally get what she means here. We meet our clients wherever they are at, we trust who they are in the moment and are curious about how they will show us what they need. 

We don’t see our clients as broken. That’s not helpful and it’s not true. We all have specific challenges but there isn’t a perfect version of ourselves or of our children that we need to chase. Perfection is not the goal. Right here, in this moment, you are who you are. Your child is who they are. That’s enough and it’s always the right place to start.

I think about this because I can remember introducing my newborn son to a relative who gazed into his eyes and said, “It’s a shame that someone so perfect is going to be messed up by the world.” My gosh, I was devastated. And that’s how I parented for the first few years, from this place of fear. Everything felt like a threat to his perfection and I felt like I was in a losing battle to protect him from harm. I know that some of you are having that experience, too.

Let me tell you, now that my kids are grown I see how wrong I was and how much that point of view caused me unnecessary sorrow and insecurity. We are meant to experience the world and we are built to withstand it especially when we have the loving support of committed, attentive and attuned parents.  

None of us are projects to be fixed or perfected; we are here to grow, learn, and discover.

One of the ways I approach anxious kids is to talk about the great adventure that is life. We talk about their heroes — fictional or not — and how those heroes go through difficult times. That’s what makes them heroes, right? I tell those kids, This is your adventure tale. You are facing dragons. You will have stories of survival to tell and to inspire people. It’s hard work. That’s why we write books about it.

If you are parenting an anxious child know that you are writing your own story. Parenting this child at this time is part of it. I am here to help you with the mind part, the relationship part. I am here to address the family systems part. There are other wonderful practitioners who can be a part of your journey, too. 

If I had my way, I’d assign every family a whole team of supporters, and cheerleaders, and educators, and service providers. But you only need to start with one. Just start at the start that is most accessible to you and through that particular path, you will find other helpers, too. Remember, no silver bullets but with those people who come alongside you, you — and your child — can overcome anything.

What causes child anxiety and how do you fix it? Read More »

Why does my child’s anxiety make my anxiety worse?

This is such a good question and gives us the opportunity to do a deep dive into anxiety in general and child anxiety in particular so let’s go ahead and do that, let’s dive in.

Ok first of all, anxiety is catching and it’s meant to be. We are meant to live in community and if something is threatening the community — like if we are all sitting around together, around the fire, relaxing after a long day hunting and gathering — and a lion creeps up on us and one of us hears a sound and sits up all alert, the rest of us are supposed to catch their tension so we get on high alert, too. It’s a safety issue.

You know how sometimes you’re sitting in your car at a red light and you turn to look at the person in the car next to you and they feel you looking and stare right back at you? We are all attuned to each other. We are sensitive to the people around us and most sensitive to the people to whom we are closest. 

I thought about this a lot over the past few years when things have been scary for a lot of people. Our society is more anxious right now and has been for some time. We catch anxiety from each other and even if we’re having a particular experience that isn’t very anxious for whatever reason, we might find ourselves feeling on higher alert, a little more tense, a bit more irritable when we go out around other people. 

This is another reason why I expect to field more phone calls from parents about their anxious kids during back to school time. It’s not just the transition, although there’s that. It’s not just the greater demands of school, although there’s that, too. But there is also the fact that anxiety is catching and kids catch it from each other and we catch it from them. 

Anxiety, in other words, begets anxiety.

So that’s one reason why your child’s anxiety makes you anxious is that it’s supposed to. 

Beyond that there are a couple of other reasons why your child’s anxiety might make you anxious and these are super important to unpack when we’re planning how we want to address their anxiety. 

The first is that maybe you’re anxious about the same things. So say your child is really worried about passing their test. Maybe you worry about grades, too. Maybe you worry about their ability to pass the test. Maybe when they say, “I think my teacher doesn’t like me and is going to be extra hard when they grade my essay responses” we start to worry that this might happen.

We might know we’re worried about the same things they are but we might not know it. We might be so caught up in their worry and whining or tears or asking for help that we don’t notice that we share their worry. That can make it difficult to address it. We might start problem solving, like encouraging them to study harder when studying harder isn’t actually the issue. The issue is the worry. This can be especially true for perfectionist parents — because perfectionism is a symptom of anxiety — whose response to their own triggered worry is to run from that worry. That is to say, your child is afraid of failing, we are also afraid of their failing, and so we run from the idea of failure whether or not that is a realistic fear.

Our anxiety may make it difficult for us to recognize it as an unrealistic fear. 

Ok, so that’s two reasons. 

Now there’s another one and this one is the most common reason parents reach out to me for help. And that is that their child’s anxiety triggers their own anxiety not about the fears the child has but about their fear that their child can’t handle it. 

Parents don’t always recognize this as anxiety. They experience it as frustration, anger, overwhelm, or discouragement. They tell me things like, “I’m afraid that my child can’t handle their anxiety” or “I’m afraid my child’s anxiety will derail them” or “I’m afraid my child will be traumatized if I I make them do the thing they’re scared of” or even “I’m afraid of my child’s behavior when I push them about the thing that makes them anxious.”

In those cases it’s our worry — the “I’m afraid …” part that we need to address first.

What we know about anxiety is that it’s a family systems issue. The child does have anxiety, that is not the family’s fault, it’s not the parents’ fault, it’s not the child’s fault. It’s a fact and what happens is that the system of the family starts to shape itself around the child’s anxiety. This is normal and generally speaking it is healthy for systems to shape themselves to support its members. It’s only an issue when the system is supporting dysfunction and we don’t always know that this is happening until we look around and say, Shoot, our family is really stuck. 

Starting with the parent doesn’t mean we’re blaming the parent, it means that we’re acknowledging that the parent has the position and the power to adjust their own reactions and behaviors in order to adjust the system, which shifts to support the child in growing instead of keeping the child stuck.

It’s big work, I won’t lie. It’s not easy and it’s important that the parent takes care of themselves while they’re doing it. To take care of your child’s anxiety means understanding where your anxiety has become part of the issue so that you can address it and so address your child’s. It’s one of those things where when you start to see it, you can really see it. And that makes it much easier to address it. 

Why does my child’s anxiety make my anxiety worse? Read More »

What should we do about our anxious child’s negative self talk?

Negative self talk looks like, “I’m terrible, I’m stupid, I’m the worst player ever, etc.” My child is incredibly talented and none of what he says is true, but no amount of positive reinforcement seems to help. 

This is a great question because it’s really common. I often get calls from parents looking for help because this kind of negative self talk is getting more and more worrisome. 

The first thing I ask parents to consider when they contact me about this behavior is when its occurring. Anxious children will often say these kinds of things when they are trying to confront their anxiety in some ways but are failing. For example, a child who is worried about failing a spelling test might say this when they try to study. Or a child who is struggling to go into school alone is sitting in the car unable to get out and go in. They may also say it when they realize their parent is frustrated or unhappy with how things are going or if they think their parent is frustrated or unhappy with how things are going. And many many kids who are on the fight end of fight/flight and freeze say it after their meltdown. They look around at their trashed room or at their unhappy family and feel pretty terrible about it and then say, “I’m the worst. I’m a bad kid.”

If your child is saying these statements in the context of their anxiety then this is part of their anxiety. 

Anxious kids are anxious, right? And one of the things they’re anxious about is being able to measure up. They are worried that they are not good enough, not strong enough, and not capable enough.

They are anxious about their anxiety. And they are confusing their anxiety with themselves. Because of course they are. The more anxious a child is, the more their anxiety is ruling their lives and may feel like the most central, most important thing about themselves.

Anxiety tells us lies. It tells us that all the dogs will bite, and that thunder storms will turn into tornadoes and whirl us away, and that our friends are just waiting to laugh at us and that we aren’t good enough. That’s a pervasive lie of anxiety.

Anxiety robs us of our self esteem. The more that we are limited by our anxiety — the more that we are avoiding or limiting ourselves and our loved ones — the worse we feel about ourselves. Other kids can spend the night places. Other kids can speak up in class. Other kids —maybe even our siblings — aren’t driving our parents crazy. No wonder anxious kids often feel bad about themselves.

And this is true, even for the kids who are successful. Perfectionist, anxious kids may be performing at a very high level of functioning, but they still feel bad about themselves. That’s because their best is never good enough and they always feel one mistake away from everything falling apart. Perfectionist, anxious, kids are all or nothing kids. That means that they’re absolutely 100% fantastic or they are abject failures. 

And this is why it’s so important that we and our children get support around anxiety. Anxiety tends to go hand in hand with depression in large part because anxiety does such a number on our sense of self. It tells us the lies that we are not good enough. That we must remain small to stay safe. It tells us that we have to avoid adventure in order to stay protected. Or that we must be perfect in order to deserve love.

If you have a child who is saying rotten things about themselves there are a couple of things to know.

The first is that reassuring them that they are wonderful is unlikely to help in the moment. If you’ve taken the Parenting Pitfalls quiz, which you can find at my site child anxiety support dot com, just look in the menu at the top then you know that reassurance is one of those pitfalls. That means that reassuring our children when they are anxious actually makes them more anxious. That reassurance feels good for a minute but then our children acclimate to it and need more of it. Yes, it’s good to tell our kids how great they are but when they are feeling anxious and beating themselves up, we can remind them that this is their anxiety talking. We can say things like, 

“Your anxiety is is trying to keep you small right now.” Or even, “Your anxiety is not being very nice to you right now.” When they are not feeling anxious, we can explain how this all works. The first part of helping our anxious kids is teaching them how anxiety functions. We should explain that anxiety is our safety system working over time. It’s good to be concerned about our safety but it’s not good to be so concerned that we’re missing out or beating ourselves up. 

We should teach our kids to talk back to their anxiety. Your child says, “I’m stupid” and we can say, “That’s your anxiety talking. What would you like to say back to it.”

Sometimes this is no good in the moment. When our kids are at their most anxious they are in survival mode and can’t access the higher order thinking that logical reasoning requires. In those cases we should wait until their calm and process the negative self talk later. 

Again, negative self talk is in itself a form of anxiety in anxious kids and reassurance is going to make things worse.

Which brings us to our own anxiety. It’s really really difficult to hear our kids trash talk themselves. It is painful and it can be scary. Of course we feel anxious when we hear their anxiety coming out this way.

So how do we handle that? In much the same way. First we learn about how anxiety works — ours and our child’s. Second, we learn how to manage anxiety — ours and our child’s. We learn to think in two modes — in the moment, dealing with what’s right in front of us and big picture, dealing with anxiety as a whole. That means having a plan for in the specific anxious moment that feeds the larger plan of helping our anxious child long-term.

In short, if your child is full of negative self talk then:

  1. Educate them about anxiety and how it shows up including making us think mean things about ourselves that are supposed to keep us small and safe but really end up keeping us small and unhappy;
  2. Make a plan for what we’ll say to them in the moment, which might be something like, “Your anxiety has its mean voice on today.” Or “Sounds like your anxiety is really trying to keep you small.”
  3. Create a long-term family plan to support your child in dealing with and facing they anxiety.
  4. Create a long-term plan to support you in dealing with any anxiety you have in parenting an anxious child.

Have questions about this topic or something else you want to ask? Let me know.

What should we do about our anxious child’s negative self talk? Read More »

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