anxious parent

Is it my anxiety or my child’s?

This week’s question is, is it my anxiety or my child’s? That’s a great question. And I’m going to insert that meme here, where the kid says, why not both? The truth is it can be difficult to tease out where the anxiety started. Do we have an anxious parent? Do we have an anxious kid? Is the parent anxious because they’re anxious about their child is the child anxious because they have an anxious parent. It’s very complicated.

So first of all, let’s explain that when we are talking about child and teen anxiety, we are talking about it in the context of a family.

And that’s because the research shows us over and over again that the family system perpetuates anxiety. We do not need to know if it is the parent’s anxiety or the child’s anxiety. We can just say there is anxiety in the family and it needs support. Now the people that are most in charge, most in control of how the family functions are the parents. Which is why we start the intervention with the parents. We work on helping the parents interrupt patterns of anxiety and as we start to unhook from anxiety, then we can work more directly with the child. All right. As far as is it your anxiety? Is that the child’s? I kind of feel like at the beginning, at least it doesn’t matter. So for example, I have many families who come to me and the child has anxiety with one parent more than the other parent and the parent who is not seeing the anxiety will often tell me, I think it’s the other parent.

I think the other parent is so anxious they make the child anxious. And I say, yeah, maybe, maybe that, that could be part of it. It’s still going to need the same kind of attention, which is we have to interrupt the pattern. Is the parent creating the anxiety in the Child, perhaps but it’s very chicken and egg.

You cannot look at something happening with the child and know exactly what’s happening in the family. It’s kind of backwards when we do that. So when we, when we’re working with a child and we say the parent is clearly doing it wrong, we’re ignoring the fact that maybe the parent is doing things in reaction to the child.

All right. We know that. We know from the research that parents of anxious kids get trapped in those anxiety patterns. We also know that some children inherit anxiety from their parents, both genetically; they have brains shaped for anxiety. And also because we teach them how to be anxious. For example, if you’re afraid of spiders, then every time you see a spider, you’re going to jump and act afraid your child learns, oh, I get it.

Spiders are scary. I need to be afraid of spiders that doesn’t make it your fault per se. It’s just the reality that we teach children how to function in the world. On the other hand, if the child is afraid of spiders and freaks out every time they see it. The parent will start being afraid of seeing spiders because they know it will create a reaction in the Child.

Then you’ve got both people kind of freaking out over spiders. And you can’t say, well, it’s the parents’ fault because they shouldn’t be freaking out over spiders. Any more than you can say, it’s the child’s fault because they’re freaking out over spiders. So let’s quit talking about fault and instead start talking about how do we interrupt that pattern? And that is through exposure designing exposures about spiders. And that might be getting some spider toys, some little rubber spiders, some toys spiders, reading books about spiders. Until the pattern is interrupted in a way. If you’re just working with the child with the rubber spiders, toys spiders, all of those things. And the parent is still reacting. Hey, are you okay? There’s a spider. Are you all right? Then you can see that’s not going to go very far with the child. We also have to work with the parent. We need to calm down your reaction to the spider.

We need to help you not freak out when you see a spider, whether that’s because you yourself are uncomfortable with spiders or because having a child who’s afraid of spiders has made you reactive to spiders. Am I making sense here? We do know, too, that the bigger your child’s reaction, the more outsized their child’s reaction, the more likely you are to get activated.

If your child has big behaviors in their anxiety, then you are likely to feel that more and to get more caught in those anxious patterns. By the same token, if you are a sensitive, anxious individual, then your family is also more likely to get stuck in anxious patterns. Which is all to say, it is not helpful to talk about blame and talk about how we got here so much as to talk about how do we get out of here. If you’re feeling guilty because you feel like you have brought anxiety into the family. Please let that go

and instead, focus on how do I figure out how to get out of these anxious patterns we’re stuck in? How do I learn to take care of myself around the anxiety? Because I guarantee that’s going to make things better for your child. The more you can take care of your anxiety about your child’s anxiety, the better. And sometimes when I’m talking to parents that go, I do not have anxiety.

This is all my child. But the fact they’re reaching out to me tells me they do have anxiety. They’re anxious about their child’s functioning and that anxiety while you might not think of it as well. I’m an anxious person. You do have anxiety within the relationship because naturally as a loving, connected, empathetic parent, you’re worried about your kid. And that’s the anxiety that we’re going to pay attention to

as we work on getting the family out of the whole anxiety pattern. I get it, that the focus is on the child because the child is the one everybody’s concerned about. The child is the one who may be seems trapped. The child is the one who’s maybe causing issues for the family at large. But again, we need to start with the parent. Once the parent understands the patterns.

Once the parent understands how they are perpetuating or trapped in the patterns. Once the parent understands that they do have anxiety, even if it’s just about their child’s anxiety, then we’re really going to be able to get to work. .As we work on the parent to extricate themselves, I promise you, the whole family will extricate.

It may not look like you expect it may not look like all of a sudden my child’s anxiety has gone; they’re coping, et cetera. But again, the more you focus on you and understand what’s happening. The more you pull out of it. The more, you’re going to be able to support your child. I hope this all makes sense.

Thanks for tuning in this week. Remember if you have a question you’d like me to address on the show, please go to ChildAnxietySupport .com/question, and you can post it there. Maybe I’ll address it on a future episode. I also wanted to let you know that I have a webinar called “Tell Me It Will Be OK: How To Talk To Your Anxious Child About Their Anxiety”

and you can register for that at ChildAnxietySupport.com /webinar. That’s free for you. I just want you to check it out and let me know if it’s helpful. If you’d like to learn more about me and my program and see if maybe I can help your family, please visit ChildAnxietySupport.Com.

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Gentle Parenting for Anxious Children

Parenting is a journey that comes with its unique set of challenges, especially for those who have decided to embrace the gentle parenting approach. Gentle parenting is about guiding children with kindness, empathy, and respect, rather than punitive measures. This becomes particularly poignant when we, as parents with our own hard backgrounds, are faced with the task of raising anxious children. It’s a path that requires patience, understanding, and a recognition of our own experiences and how they shape our responses to our children’s needs.

Understanding Projection in Parenting

One of the intricate aspects of parenting is the tendency to project our own childhood experiences onto our children. Many of us turn to gentle parenting because it offers a stark contrast to the way we were raised. We want to do better, to be the empathetic and responsive caregivers we craved for ourselves. When we see our children struggling with anxiety, our hearts naturally swell with empathy. Yet, this well-meaning impulse can sometimes cloud our judgment.

Projection can lead us to over-identify with our child’s experiences of anxiety. In doing so, we may inadvertently hinder their ability to develop resilience. It is crucial to remember that while empathy is a beautiful gift, it must be balanced with the recognition that our children are individuals separate from ourselves. They have their own paths to navigate, and sometimes, what they need most from us is the space to learn and grow through their own experiences.

Embracing Exposure with Love and Support

It may seem counterintuitive, but part of helping an anxious child is to encourage them towards exposure to the things they fear. This can be one of the toughest aspects for a gentle parent to reconcile with their nurturing instincts. Exposure can feel like we are pushing our children into discomfort, which can trigger memories of our emotional neglect. It can be distressing when our child questions our love and support in the face of their anxiety, asking, “Don’t you love me?” or “Why aren’t you helping?”

However, it’s important to recognize that this exposure is not the same as abandonment. As gentle parents, we’ve laid a foundation of support and empathy that we, ourselves, may not have had. Our children have a resource in us that we may not have had in our own parents. They are not alone in their journey. As they face their anxieties, they do so with a parent who is emotionally present and equipped to support them through the process, creating a fundamentally different experience than the one we may have known.

Recognizing Individuality in the Parent-Child Relationship

Embracing the fact that your child is not you, and you are not your child, is a powerful step in gentle parenting. This recognition allows us to see our children as the unique individuals they are, with their own strengths and vulnerabilities. It allows us to parent from a place of understanding and support, without the constraints of our own past experiences.

Remember, you are breaking the cycle. Your child has the benefit of a parent who is doing things differently. Through your presence, empathy, and responsiveness, you are providing your child with the resources to face their challenges in ways you might not have been able to. This is the essence of gentle parenting—offering our children the tools and emotional support they need to grow into resilient, well-adjusted individuals.

As we navigate the complexities of parenting anxious children, we must hold onto the knowledge that our journey is distinct from theirs. We guide, we support, but we also let them find their own way, knowing that they are fortified by the love and empathy we shower upon them. Gentle parenting isn’t about shielding our children from every discomfort; it’s about preparing them to face the world with courage and the knowledge that they are never alone.

In closing, gentle parents, take heart. Your hard background has equipped you with an enormous capacity for empathy and growth. Your decision to parent gently is a testament to your strength and commitment to doing better for your child. Trust in the foundation you have built, and watch as your child uses the tools you have given them to navigate their anxieties. Together, you are on a path of healing and growth, one step at a time.

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Understanding the Roots of Child Anxiety: It’s Not Just About Parenting

Welcome to today’s discussion on a topic that I find crucial and yet often misunderstood – child anxiety and the role of parents in it. As someone who has been immersed both in clinical work and providing support through child anxiety parent education, I’ve encountered numerous instances that leave me shaking my head in frustration. The narrative of blaming parents for their children’s anxiety is not just prevalent; it’s damaging. Let’s delve into this topic with empathy, understanding, and education, to dispel some myths and shed light on the real issues at hand.

The Blame Game: Why Professionals Shouldn’t Point Fingers at Parents

One of the most distressing experiences for parents seeking help for their anxious child is being met with blame. Imagine mustering the courage to ask for support, only to be told that the problem lies with you – that you are the cause of your child’s struggles because “you’re doing it wrong.” It’s a narrative I’ve encountered all too often, and it’s one that needs to change.

When professionals hastily judge parents without fully engaging with the child, they overlook a crucial fact: parents reaching out are already taking a positive step. These are the individuals we should be supporting, not chastising. Moreover, the simplistic notion that a child’s challenges can be pinned solely on parental actions ignores the complexities of human behavior and development. Two children raised in the same environment can have vastly different outcomes because the equation of human emotion and psychology is not a one-size-fits-all scenario.

Focusing on Strengths: The Constructive Approach to Parental Support

In my work with families, my approach is to identify and build upon what parents are doing right. Believe me, no matter the situation, there are always strengths to be found. It is from this foundation of positivity that we can create effective strategies to support both the child and the family as a whole.

Supporting a child with anxiety is not just about addressing what’s “wrong” or “lacking” in the parental approach. It’s about recognizing the unique strengths and skills of each family member and leveraging these to foster a nurturing environment. By focusing on what parents and children are doing right and how we can enhance those behaviors, we create a more robust support system that benefits everyone involved.

Child Anxiety: A Family Pattern That Can Be Rewoven

Child anxiety does not exist in a vacuum; it is often a reflection of family dynamics. Yes, parents play a role, as do the children. However, by understanding that each family member contributes to the pattern, we can begin to make meaningful changes that benefit everyone.

It’s important to start with the parents who have already shown their willingness to seek help. These parents are not the problem; they are part of the solution. By working collaboratively with them, we can make significant strides in reducing child anxiety and improving the family’s overall wellbeing.

In conclusion, if you’re a parent struggling with your child’s anxiety, know that you’re not alone, and it’s not about assigning blame. It’s about finding solutions and building on the love and strengths that already exist within your family. For those who are ready to embrace a supportive and constructive approach to addressing child anxiety, I’m here to help. Let’s have a conversation and begin the journey towards healing and growth together.

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Understanding and Alleviating Anxiety in Children and Teens: Gentle Parenting Strategies

Gentle parenting, with its superpower of communication, offers an empathetic, supportive, and effective way to help our young ones navigate their fears and anxieties. Today, we’re going to explore three specific techniques that embody this compassionate philosophy.

The Power of Conversation: A Double-Edged Sword

Let’s start with the core strength of gentle parenting – talking. It’s a powerful tool that enables us to connect with our children, understand their world, and help them process their emotions. However, when it comes to anxiety, we can sometimes inadvertently heighten their fears by focusing too much on the subject.

Imagine you’re in a situation that triggers your anxiety. Constantly discussing your fears can reinforce those emotions, keeping you fixated on them instead of allowing you to move forward. The same happens with our children. While it’s essential to acknowledge their feelings, we must avoid over-processing.

The key is balance. We should provide a space for our kids to express their fears without making their anxiety the center of attention all the time. By doing so, we allow them to understand that while their fears are valid, they don’t have to dominate their experiences.

Encouragement Over Fixation: Fostering Resilience

Now, let’s talk about how we can better support our children as they face their anxieties. Instead of fixating on the fear, let’s shift our focus to empowerment and resilience. Tell your child, “I know you’re afraid, but I also know you can handle it. I’ll be there with you every step of the way.”

This statement does two things: it acknowledges the fear, so your child feels heard, and it instills confidence, reminding them of their inner strength. It’s a subtle but powerful change in approach that can make a significant difference in how they manage anxiety.

By affirming their capability to overcome challenges, we’re not dismissing their feelings. Instead, we’re guiding them towards a mindset where they see themselves as capable and resilient, which is crucial in developing long-term coping skills.

Building Coping Skills: A Guided, Yet Subtle Approach

Finally, let’s consider how we can help our children build their coping skills without making them overly conscious of their anxiety. It’s essential to teach them techniques like deep breathing, visualization, or grounding exercises, but we must introduce these tools in a way that feels natural and non-intrusive.

For instance, practice deep breathing exercises together during calm moments, not just when they’re anxious. This way, it becomes a part of their routine, and they’re more likely to remember to use it when they need it – without you having to remind them in the midst of their anxiety.

Incorporate these techniques into daily life as much as possible. The goal is for these skills to become second nature to them, so when they do face a situation that causes anxiety, they have a toolkit of strategies already in place, ready to use without it feeling like a big deal.

In conclusion, gentle parenting offers a compassionate framework for helping children and teens manage their anxiety. By conversing thoughtfully, fostering resilience, and subtly integrating coping skills into everyday life, we can empower our young ones to face their fears with confidence. Remember, it’s about guiding them to understand that while anxiety is a part of life, it doesn’t have to define their experiences. As parents, our unwavering support and belief in their abilities can make all the difference.

Thank you for joining us on this journey towards understanding and nurturing our children’s emotional well-being. Keep embracing the power of gentle parenting, and let’s continue to create a supportive environment where our kids can thrive, even in the face of anxiety.

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Nurturing Calm: Gentle Parenting for Anxious Children

As parents, we often find ourselves in a delicate dance of nurturing, guiding, and setting boundaries for our children. This dance becomes even more intricate when you have an anxious child or teenager. Gentle parenting approaches can be incredibly effective in these situations, but how do we establish healthy boundaries while still providing the support and understanding these sensitive souls need?

Understanding the Reflective Nature of Anxiety

At the heart of the matter lies an essential truth: our children are mirrors to our own emotional states. The most important thing we can do as parents who respect, love, and are attuned to our anxious children is to take care of our own anxiety about them. Anxiety can be contagious, and as gentle parents who prioritize the relationship, we are especially susceptible to this emotional contagion.

When our child’s anxiety begins to ramp up, it is not uncommon for us, as parents, to follow suit. This isn’t just because of our attunement to our kids; it’s also because anxiety naturally tends to spread from person to person. Therefore, we must become adept at managing our own emotional responses. Learning to calm ourselves becomes crucial not just for our well-being but for the well-being of our children as well.

Cultivating Self-Calm to Foster Stability

Anxiety may be catching, but so is calm. The more we can ground ourselves, the less likely we are to be swept up in the anxiety and reassurance loop. Imagine yourself as the anchor in the stormy seas of your child’s emotions. By maintaining your calm, you provide a stable point of reference for your child. This stability is essential because it offers them a chance to tune into your calm instead of spiraling further into their anxiety. This is, perhaps, the most crucial boundary we can offer our anxious children: not joining them in their anxiety.

It’s not about being a stoic or emotionless figure; it’s about demonstrating that emotions can be managed and that calm is achievable even when anxiety is knocking at the door. This silent lesson in emotional regulation is one of the most powerful tools in a gentle parent’s arsenal.

Setting Boundaries with Love and Consistency

Establishing boundaries doesn’t mean erecting walls. Instead, it’s about setting consistent expectations and maintaining a space where your child knows what’s acceptable and what isn’t, all while feeling supported and loved. Communicating clear boundaries in a gentle but firm manner teaches children self-regulation and respect for themselves and others.

Boundaries are not just for behavior; they’re also for emotions. We can teach our children that while all feelings are valid, not all responses are appropriate. We can guide them towards healthy outlets for their anxiety and help them to understand the importance of self-care and self-soothing techniques.

In the end, gentle parenting is a balance of empathy and structure. It’s about being a compassionate confidant while also being a guide who sets limits. By modeling calm, staying consistent with boundaries, and offering unwavering support, we can help our anxious children navigate their emotions and the world around them with confidence and resilience.

Parenting is no easy task, and it becomes all the more challenging when anxiety enters the equation. However, with patience, understanding, and a commitment to self-regulation, we can provide the nurturing environment that our anxious children need to thrive. Remember, the calm you cultivate within yourself isn’t just for you—it’s a gift to your child, a beacon of peace in the tumultuous journey of growth.

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Are there techniques for teaching emotional regulation to anxious children?

 Hey everybody. This week’s question for the Child Anxiety FAQ is, “are there techniques for teaching emotional regulation to anxious children?” And of course there are techniques teaching emotional regulation for all kinds of kids, including anxious kids. It’s going to be a little bit different for anxious children, because we tend to focus on their anxiety.

We tend to focus on when they are not regulated and that makes sense because that’s what we’re trying to fix. So let’s take a step back and look at our anxious child and let’s think about when they are emotionally regulated. Let’s look for those times in the day where both of you are feeling a bit calmer, where they’re experiencing some contentment or pleasure or joy. And let’s start with that. Because when we ask children to do something like calm down, they’re not going to be able to do that if they don’t even know what calm is. So let’s find the places in their day where they are calm. For lots of anxious kids this means finding specific things that make their bodies feel better. So that could be swinging; that’s super regulating. It can be going for a walk. It can be building with their Legos.

It can be listening to music. It can be reading. What is it that your child likes to do?

Are they very active? Are they getting enough activity in their life? Are they kids who like to slow down and focus and curl up on the couch? Are they getting enough time with that?

Just for the next week, I would encourage you to look and see when is my child finding calm. Is it in the car ride with you on the way home from school? Is it when they’re curled up in bed and telling you about their day at the end of the day. Is it when they’re eating lunch and chatting with you. Start talking to them about their feelings in those good moments. Also observe yourself.

When are you getting moments of calm and clarity and contentment? Because this will also help you figure out what do you need more of? When we’re looking at anxiety, of course, we have a laser focus on those anxious moments, those problem moments. But when we only focus on those, we start to think in that way. We start calling attention to those only, and we’re not going to ignore them.

I’m not saying it’s all in your head because it’s not. I’m saying that we need to shift some focus.

If your child is calmer when they get activity, how can you get them more activity? If they’re calmer when they get more quiet time. How can you help them get more quiet time? As they tune into those, you can start using that as their coping tools for anxiety. Before their anxiety is out of control when you’re approaching something that creates anxiety, how can you bring more of that calm coping in?

It’s not just take a deep breath. It might be, “I know you’re worried about the spelling test. Why don’t you go take a break and go play with your Legos for a little bit, because I know that helps you calm your mind down.” Or “why don’t you go out and pitch to the pitch back…”. I tell you those pitch backs, you know, those square nets that you can put in a backyard and the kids can throw or kick a ball into it and bounces back. For some kids that is incredibly regulating.

You get to throw really hard. You get the satisfaction of catching and it’s rhythmic. So maybe you say. “Why don’t you go and play with your pitch back for a little bit, and then come back in when you’re feeling better.”

you might teach them to make themselves a cup of tea when they need to have some quiet, calm downtime. Or kids might need to chew gum as a calm down tool.

I’m thinking about some kids that I’ve worked with, who are maybe stressed about homework or times tables. Chewing gum while they’re doing it can actually stave off some of the anxiety because it lets them work out some of that nervous energy.

Now here’s why it’s important to look beyond the anxiety for other things that help our child regulate it’s because our child is more than their anxiety.

Their anxiety is just a part of them that they need to learn how to manage. If we look at the rest of their functional life to find places that we can build on and grow with and bring that to the anxiety, that is often more helpful than thinking of the anxiety as a discrete event in their life that we are trying to eliminate.

Does that makes sense? I hope that makes sense.

The other thing to know is that emotional regulation is a skill and it takes practice. This is not going to work right away. And for children who are accustomed to going into their emotional dysregulation and exploding, and that’s the way that they manage it, we are going to have to work a little harder to help them turn that around. We can let them know that this is part of growing.

That there’s nothing wrong with them. That they are a person who is learning how to be a person, just like we are all learning how to be people. Very often anxious kids think of themselves as people who cannot handle things. They think of themselves as people who disappoint the adults around them, they think of themselves as out of control. Shifting that image of themselves is going to take time. We can’t give up on them.

We just need to keep leaning in to helping them learn how to regulate. And also help them learn how to stay safe and keep other people safe when they are dysregulated. So that might mean if you have a child who really is going to melt down, how can we help them be safe when they do that? There was one family that I worked with that I encourage them to build an outdoor space that their child was free to flip out on.

That family built something that they called an anxious garden and when their child is feeling dysregulated and needed to yell and scream, They were allowed to go out there, hit that tree with sticks, stomp around, even throw rocks at the fence. The family told the neighbors, “Hey, if you see our kid out there flipping out, it’s okay.”

That’s an agreed upon way for them to manage their big feelings and the child felt safe to do that and was able then to feel less attached to that behavior.

This is fine to navigate and negotiate with our kids because we are all learning how to handle big emotions. It may be messy until you come up with solutions that work for you and likely as your child grows and develops, you will need to revisit those solutions because they’ll stop working and your child will need new things. There’s something else I wanted to say about the dysregulated anxious child is it can be helpful to keep a journal of how things are going, because it’s easy to miss progress when you’re in it. I can remember working with another family who their child used to punch holes in walls.

And for a long time, we were working on that and their child very successfully stopped punching holes in walls. It was fantastic. But one day during a meltdown, after many, many months of not hurting things they punched another hole in the wall and the family understandably was really worried. Is this a slippery slope?

Is this our downfall? And because we had been keeping track, they were able to look and say, Nope, this is a one-off and our child is usually doing a great job. And we are continuing to grow, and this is not a sign of anything, except that we had an especially bad day. If you’ve got questions about this, please let me know.

And if you have questions, you’d like me to address on the podcast. Please reach out to me.

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What do I do if my anxious child is bullying their siblings?

Addressing Anxiety and Sibling Bullying: A Parental Guide

Managing a child’s anxiety while maintaining harmony among siblings is a delicate balancing act. It involves understanding the nature of anxiety, recognizing the impact of behavior, and fostering an environment that encourages personal growth and responsibility without sparking shame. This post aims to provide parents with insights into handling situations where an anxious child might be bullying a sibling.

Understanding Anxiety in Children

Children experiencing anxiety are often not in a state of mental wellness that empowers them to control their behavior fully. This isn’t much about lacking the intention to behave well but more about lacking the ability to manage their responses effectively. According to Ross Green, “Kids do well if they can.” By recognizing that behavioral issues stem more from incapacity rather than unwillingness, we can approach the situation with more empathy and patience.

Recognizing the Struggles

Anxious children may not feel great about themselves; their actions, as much as they seem outwardly directed, are often reflections of their internal conflicts.

“This identity crisis exacerbates their anxiety, making it a cycle of stress and negative behavior, which might include bullying siblings.”

Addressing Sibling Bullying

Bullying is a serious issue and even more delicate when it involves siblings. First, it’s critical to ensure that the child being bullied feels safe and supported. Immediate comfort and assurance to the bullied child affirm your role as a protector, helping to restore their sense of safety.

Approaching the Anxious Child

Once safety is addressed, it’s time to approach the child with anxiety. It’s important not to confront them with accusations or labels that might trigger shame. Phrases like “You’re being a bully” or “You’re bad” can be very harmful. Instead, focus on the behavior and its unacceptability, framed by their emotions:

  • “I know you are anxious and I know you are struggling, but you may not treat your sibling this way.”

  • “I understand you are upset, but that doesn’t justify hurting others or breaking things.”

By acknowledging their feelings while also setting clear behavioral expectations, you’re not only guiding them towards better behavior but also validating their emotions, which is crucial for children dealing with anxiety.

Holding the Line Without Shaming

The goal is to help the child improve their behavior without making them feel worse about themselves. This can be a challenging line to walk, but it is necessary for their emotional and psychological health. Focus on the behavior as something they have control over, rather than something inherent to their character. This distinction helps the child feel capable of change at the same time as they understand the boundaries they must operate within.

Strategies for Positive Reinforcement

  1. Set Clear Expectations: Clearly state what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t.

  2. Reinforce Positives: Catch them doing good and praise them for it. Positive reinforcement can motivate them to continue good behavior.

  3. Model Empathy: Show empathy to all your children. Let them see firsthand how to express concern and understanding.

  4. Consistent Follow-Through: Be consistent in your responses to both negative and positive behavior to avoid confusion about what’s acceptable.

  5. Seek Professional Help if Needed: If you feel overwhelmed or if the child’s anxiety and behaviors are severe, professional help from a child psychologist might be necessary.

Conclusion

Handling a child’s anxiety while mitigating sibling bullying is about striking the right balance between support and discipline. It requires patience, understanding, and a clear communication of values and expectations in your family dynamics. Remember, each child is different, and the approach might need to be tailored based on individual needs, but the underlying principles of empathy, support, and clear boundaries remain constant.


Parenting is an evolving challenge that requires continuous learning and adaptation. By focusing on building a nurturing yet structured environment, we help all our children grow into well-rounded individuals capable of managing their behaviors and emotions effectively.

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What if I don’t mind being stuck in the parenting pitfalls?

I really like this question because it’s complicated. The person who asked this did not ask it quite so simply. What she asked was this: “I have been listening to your podcast and took your parenting pitfalls quiz, and I scored high. I know that my child has anxiety but I don’t have an issue with helping him. You say on your podcast that you should follow your instincts. I was an anxious little girl and my mother never helped me and I don’t want to do that to my son. If I don’t have a problem with helping and it seems to help Why is this an issue?”

This is a very good question because I do think we need to follow our instincts, but I also think it’s important to stop and interrogate those instincts. What I mean is to make sure that we’re not projecting onto our kids. That is so tough. That’s what I mean about this being deep work. 

.One of the things I learned early on in my career working with kids is that it is important to have a developmental context in parenting decisions. We need to understand what is typical so that our expectations will be realistic. And when I say expectations, I mean like understanding that a two-year-old can’t be left alone in a bath, but also understanding that an eight-year-old needs to be able to separate from their parents. An 8-year old who is struggling to separate from a parent is not bad, they are not behind, they don’t have bad parents — but they do need help. Because it is a reasonable expectation developmentally for a neurotypical child to be able to separate from their parents. And it’s also a reasonable expectation for many neurodiverse kids, too. It can be more complicated for those neurodiverse children — we need to step back and see what else might be going on — but if we start with the belief that our children can separate but may need help, that opens us up to figuring out the help.

This is different from saying, “They SHOULD do it and we need to MAKE them.” Ok, I want to be clear about that. We’re saying, “This is appropriate for them developmentally and we need to figure out how to help them grow into it.”

That also means that we’re thinking of it as a process with steps and a trajectory and many little goals along the way.

When there is reluctance either on a parents’ part or a child’s part, I think it helps to slow it down. Let’s figure out what’s getting in the way and figure out how to address those obstacles, whatever they are.

Going back to the question where the parent isn’t wanting to step out of the parenting pitfalls, I’m seeing the parents’ obstacles but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some for their child, too. Remember parenting is a relationship and it’s shaped by the participants in the relationship. Which means that even if the mom is saying it’s me, it’s all me, I like helping, I want to help, I’m not going to assume it is in fact all hers.

Let me tell you more about reluctant parents in the anxious relationship.

I see lots of reluctant parents. And I think sometimes my job is less about trying to shove people through a program and more about being a step along the way as people figure it out. The fact that this person is listening to my podcast tells me that she is thinking about this. She is thinking about child anxiety and how to help her child. Per her own words, she’s not ready to change yet but she might be getting there. 

Reluctance can happen for lots of reasons, often more than one. But some of the most common I see are:

First: Parents who were themselves anxious as kids and who didn’t feel well supported as kids and so are hypersensitive to their own children’s distress. 

Now I’ve said before that my population of parents tend to be gentle parents, respectful parents, conscious parents — you know, people who are trying to really be there for their kids. And many of us come to this style of parenting because we want to do things differently than our own parents did. We forget that our children are already growing up in a more supportive context and so their distress does not look like our distress. The mom who wrote me for the podcast says her mom didn’t help her. But she does help her son, which means she can lovingly pull back on the help especially if she explains to her son what’s happening. That’s part of the program. You are informing your kids. That doesn’t look the same as a parent just NOT helping. Ok.

The second most common reason is an intense kid. This is a child whose anxiety is big, whose behavior may be even bigger. A child who gets very upset sometimes very disruptive and the parents are trying to figure out how to manage that behavior and often they do this by accommodating the anxiety. That takes care but is not insurmountable, not at all. Having a structured, clear plan and extra support makes a huge difference. But man, I get it. I get why parents are reluctant when they know that pulling back on the pitfalls is going to mean meltdowns

And the third most common reason parents are reluctant is a bit of both. They’re sensitive and intense, their child is sensitive and intense. The anxiety is strong for both the parent and the child. And that is THE most common reason people reach out to me. That’s the parent most likely to contact me about the program is having a bit of both. And yes, it’s difficult and it might take time before that parent is really motivated to change and boy do I get it. 

If they are not ready to do the whole program, they can still benefit by joining it and starting the exploration. I actually have a course in child Anxiety Support that’s all about change and it honors this. It honors that we need to come to change on our own time and in our own way. Understanding that can help us as we move forward. We can learn about anxiety, we can spend our time in the CBT Family part of the course, just kind of browsing the activities there and seeing if any of them interest us or might interest our child. We can read through Strong Kids Strong Families and directly confront that resistance. Talk it out with me, argue with me, play around with how approaching it could look. There’s lots of time to stop and observe what’s happening with new understanding. 

The thing about parenting an anxious child is that it takes a paradigm shift to start addressing the anxiety. Sometimes you can’t do things differently until you have that shift and sometimes you need to have that shift before you can do things differently. It’s not better to do it one way or the other, you just start wherever you can. 

Basically what I’m saying is that growth is not and should not necessarily be a straight line. And here I want to speak directly to that mom who wrote me. And I want to say to her, I’m so glad that you’re listening and that you reached out. I know you care deeply about your son and you’re working hard to provide for him in a way that you were not provided for. That’s impressive. If you ever want some support as you figure out next steps, let me know. 

What if I don’t mind being stuck in the parenting pitfalls? Read More »

What does successful child anxiety treatment look like?

The question, “What does successful child anxiety treatment look like?” is one that that I made up based on different versions I’ve heard from people who are coming to me to ask about my program or to ask why treatment they’ve sought before didn’t work. 

First I want to talk a bit about expectations because I think this gets in the way of successful treatment.

Many parents who talk to me tell me that their child went through counseling and they’re still anxious and so they say counseling didn’t work. 

But anxiety isn’t something you just cure like a rash. Treatment isn’t like a course of antibiotics. It’s never going to clear up like that. That’s because anxious brains are shaped to be anxious and anxiety isn’t necessarily going to go away. For one, it’s part of us and it’s an important part of us. 

Anxiety does a lot of good things. It makes us look both ways before we cross the street. It makes us make sure our nice work outfit is clean the night before a big interview. We need anxiety; some of us are just more sensitive to it than others and That’s fine as long as we’re still running the show.

The problems start when our anxiety gets out of control. That can look like seeing danger everywhere even where there is no danger. That can look like having such strong somatic symptoms such as stomachaches or headaches that we feel incapacitated. Sometimes that can be feeling frozen because our standards for performance are too high. Sometimes unmanaged anxiety can result in depression as we become increasingly discouraged or get down on ourselves for not being able to move forward. 

So what does managed anxiety look like. It looks like seeing danger and being able to say to ourselves, “Oh that feels dangerous but it’s not dangerous.” That can look like having somatic symptoms and recognizing them as anxiety and knowing how to calm those symptoms down. That can look like recognizing our perfectionism as anxiety and knowing how to realistically lower our standards. And it can also look like being kind to ourselves when we’re feeling sad or incapable or discouraged so that we can muddle through anyway.

Successful treatment is going to give us three things:

  • It’s going to give us an understanding of our anxious experience, understanding how it feels in our body — where it shows up — and how it tries to trick us. So we’ll understand how it can warp our point of view and how we see things.
  • It’s going to give us coping tools that work for us, so we’ll need to try different things at different times to help us with the inevitable dread of anxiety, of the fear of stress response, and for coming down after we’ve faced it when we might feel more fragile.
  • And it’s going to give us a sense of ourselves as successful, as people who can face our anxiety and get through it rather than avoid it.

What that treatment is not necessarily going to do is not make us anxious. I mean, it can. Especially for specific phobias or fears. You can overcome a fear of dogs or bridges or public speaking. Absolutely yes, you can do this. But if we have specific phobias or fears, we may just be a bit more prone to other worries, too, and again, that’s part of our make up.

Child anxiety is trickier to treat than adult anxiety for a couple of reasons. The first is that there is the developmental component. We need to shape our education and intervention to the child’s age and, importantly, we will need to revisit the learning as they grow older. Kids need to learn things over and over and over again because they are changing and their understanding of the world changes, too. Knowing how to manage sad feelings when you’re three or five is very different than knowing how to manage the sad feeling that come with a first break up or a major disappointment like not getting into our number one school. Right? So emotional regulation, identifying emotions — that’s ongoing for all of us. We learn over and over again. 

And the second reason that anxiety is harder to treat in kids is attached to that, which is that someone needs to teach that to the child again and again. And the ideal people to do that, is their parents. The way that we teach our children how to manage their anxiety is both direct — in talking to them, sharing the information and observation, learning about the technicalities of anxiety and anxious cognitions so that we can pass that on. But also indirect by setting an example for them by using those tools, recognizing our own cognitive distortions and facing our own anxiety particularly our worries about their worry.

And of course we teach them not to avoid by not helping them avoid, which is the crux of the Child Anxiety Support program.

Successful treatment doesn’t mean our kids won’t struggle or that we won’t struggle with them. Successful treatment is going to mean that you both know more or less how to do it. 

My goals for people who go through my program is that they are realistic with themselves and their kids about what anti anxiety work looks like. That they learn what’s unique about their child so they understand that child’s particular challenges and can shape their support to fit that child. And that they understand what the goals are. They know how to walk themselves through the problem solving of child anxiety and are able to pass those skills — identifying the avoidance, making the plan, celebrating progress — to their child so that when that child is grown up and wanting to avoid, that child is able to take themselves in hand and push through and cope.

That’s successful anxiety treatment.

There are still going to be sleepless nights and new challenges. There will be setbacks and frustrations. That’s ok. Life is like that. It’s a journey, right? 

I mean, think of it this way. Think of something you know how to do that’s not easy. Maybe it’s satisfying, maybe you enjoy it, but it’s not easy. Whether that’s running or knitting or gardening. Even if you’re great at those things, sometimes it’s hard. It’s just built into the doing of the thing that sometimes it’s hard. Anxiety life is like that, too. Sometimes it’s just hard but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You have to rely on those tools you’ve learned.

So I guess I’d say the only time counseling or a program like mine doesn’t work is if it failed to teach you and to teach your child how to cope. And I’d say that if that’s the case, it’s time tot ry another therapist or another program. Because there are lots of resources out there and it’s important that you find the one that makes sense to you. That makes this information and those tools accessible to you. 

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What do I need to teach my child about anxiety?

Last week’s podcast episode, that’s number 60, how do I find time to work on my child’s anxiety, I talked about anti-anxiety skills and techniques and how it’s important that we learn them so we can teach them to our child and a listener wrote me after to ask more about this. They wanted to know what I meant by skills and techniques.

Ok, so tackling child anxiety has two basic pieces. The first piece is about confronting the anxiety itself. And that’s the Parenting Pitfall piece. That’s where we need to learn how to parent our specific child to help us stop avoiding the things that make them anxious. I’ve talked a lot about that.

The second piece is learning the cognitive behavioral tools so your child understands and learns how to manage their anxiety.

Anxious people, anxious kids are gonna be anxious. If we are sensitive, a bit more negative — you know, like we can spot potential problems before they even show up. This would be someone who always has a Plan B because they’re worried Plan A might work, or someone who tells you all of the reasons why things are likely to go badly. Anyway, if we have a brain that’s prone to anxiety then anxiety is going to be part of how we operate. Instead of trying to eliminate anxiety, we need to understand it — understand how it works, how it shows up for us — and we need to know what to do when we’re feeling it.

Both of these things — not avoiding anxiety, also called exposure and managing anxiety — are necessary. Learning one without the other is incomplete but that doesn’t mean you have to be learning both simultaneously. It’s more like you start chipping away at it wherever it feels most accessible. Which is what I was talking about last week.

We need to learn them first and figure out how to make sense of them so that we can interpret them for our children. And they also need to become sort of embedded in our thinking and in the way our family operates. We often segregate big discussions but I want you to understand that anxiety is a way we operate and so we can’t segregate anxiety work to a once a week thing. Anxiety is not a Topic with a capital t; it’s a way of functioning and that’s how anti-anxiety needs to be, too.

Think about other values that are automatically practiced in your family like living out kindness by saying please and thank you or living out responsibility by prioritizing homework or whatever. These value practices might be so automatic that you don’t notice them unless you visit someone else and you realize, oh so not every family greets each other when they get home. Or not every family has a chore list. A value of anti-anxiety needs to be practiced. It needs to become a way of functioning. First we learn it, we learn how to enact it in our family, and then we practice it.

Let’s discuss more what those skills, those cognitive behavioral tools, look like.

I’m going to use the section headings from my CBT Family course in the membership to illustrate this. It’s important to know that in real life these skills aren’t so neatly classified. They overlap each other and they build on each other. But this will give you a general ideas.

Section 1 Understanding Anxiety

We need to know how anxiety shows up for us. How does it show up in our bodies, how does it work. We need to be able to spot and label it. Remember anxiety is not danger but it can feel and look like danger. Understanding the difference is a big part of learning to overcome it. 

Section 2 Feelings Literacy 

I meet lost of people — kids and adults — who struggle with knowing how they feel. But recognizing, labeling and learning to handle our emotions is an essential part of resilient functioning. This is also important as part of that first bit of understanding anxiety. Because anxiety can sometimes feel like anger — anxiety can make us irritable and it can also make us meltdown and it can also feel like sadness — we may feel anxious that no one likes us or that we are failing, which can make us sad.

Section 3 Self Esteem/Self Concept 

Self esteem is what we think other people think of us and self concept is what we think of ourselves. Lots of anxious kids struggle with self esteem as just part of that anxious functioning. They may worry excessively about what other people think or their negative emotional bias may make them assume they know that other people don’t think well of them. And with self concept, the anxious child needs to start believing in their ability to face and deal with their anxiety. This can be a chicken and egg thing. They may need to feel strong to face anxiety but they may need to face anxiety to feel strong.
Section 4 Calm Down Tools 

Lots of families start here. Most families I talk to have done some calm down practice, especially deep breathing. But starting here is putting the cart before the horse. These are important skills for sure but they are absolutely not the be all end all of anxiety. Just calming down is not enough to bring to the anxious table.

Section 5 Understanding Thinking 

This section is meta cognition, which is thinking about thinking and this is some big philosophical work. Little kids aren’t going to be able to do this, they’re just not going to have the developmental capacity. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get ahead of that. This is hard work even for adults and it can bring up a lot of different feelings, which takes us back to emotional literacy. See what I mean about how this builds on itself? Don’t let that discourage you though because Understanding thinking is a lot of fun, too. Or at least it can be and it’s definitely something we relearn in new contexts.

A basic example of this is learning that story The Blind Men and the Elephant. There are picture book versions of this so I’m hoping it’s familiar but the gist is several blind men come across an elephant and they all experience the elephant differently. One gets a hold of the trunk and thinks an elephant is like a snake, one gets a hold of the ear and thinks the elephant is like a fan. One gets a hold of the leg and thinks an elephant is like a column. Anyway, That’s thinking about thinking, understanding that our perspective defines our reality and not always accurately.

Section 6 Shifting Attention 

This is about learning how to distract ourselves when anxiety threatens to take over. These are mindfulness tools, giving ourselves space to appreciate anxiety from a distance. This has overlap with calm down tools, it has overlap with meta cognition. And of course feeling literacy and understanding anxiety. These are powerful skills and again, take practice.

Section 7 Exposure Tasks

Eventually as we get better at staying out of the parenting pitfalls, our children will be able to take over designing exposure tasks or recognizing opportunities to confront their anxiety. This is also a skill and it’s based on all of the other skills. At the beginning exposure tasks may be fairly formal — if you join and take the Strong Kids Strong Families course you’ll see how confronting pitfalls is at first organized and formal — but as we get better at spotting them and confronting them, it can become second nature. That’s what those tasks are about.

You of course can find ways to teach these skills to yourself. You can buy some of the anxiety workbooks and looks hem over — they’re generally organized like this but might use different names or break things up a different way. These are also the kinds of things you’re likely to learn in therapy. 

And there is CBT Family inside my membership.

I hope this has given you some ideas about building those anti anxiety values and practices into your family. I welcome any specific questions you. Might have. 



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