child anxiety

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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Untangling the Knot of Childhood Anxiety: A Journey from Small Beginnings to Big Changes

Welcome to our latest discussion on a topic that many families find themselves grappling with: childhood anxiety. It’s not an easy path to navigate, and often, when parents reach out for guidance, they’re met with an overwhelming number of strategies, opinions, and potential solutions. But today, we’re going to talk about the transformative power of starting small to create big change.

Identifying the Core Struggle

When parents first approach me about their anxious child, they often come with a heavy heart and a story that feels like a Gordian knot of worries and struggles. They lay out the entirety of their child’s issues, and inevitably, the family’s struggles, which are invariably interwoven with the child’s experiences. They present this complex, tangled mess with a plea for help: “Let’s fix it.”

However, this intricate tangle of issues is akin to a literal knot. If you’ve ever tried to untangle a knot, you know that pulling at random strands only tightens the snarl. The same principle applies to addressing childhood anxiety. The key is not to tackle everything at once but to start small. We need to locate that one strand that, when gently pulled, will begin to loosen the entire knot.

Finding the Most Impactful Starting Point

Feeling overwhelmed is a natural response when confronting your child’s anxiety. The sheer breadth of the issue can paralyze even the most proactive parents. So where do we begin? The answer lies in pinpointing the area of greatest pain or potential relief. This is where you start—where the first small change can be made.

Perhaps it’s establishing a simple bedtime routine that helps your child wind down, or maybe it’s practicing deep-breathing exercises together for moments when anxiety starts to spike. It could even be as straightforward as creating a safe space where your child can retreat when feeling overwhelmed. These are not sweeping changes but rather focused, manageable starting points.

By homing in on one specific area, you’re not just aiming for an immediate sense of relief; you’re also setting the stage for a ripple effect. You’ll begin to notice that as you address this one area effectively, the benefits start to spill over into other areas of your child’s life—and by extension, the family’s life as well.

The Power of Incremental Progress

Starting small may seem counterintuitive when the desire for quick, comprehensive change is strong. But trust in the process of incremental progress. As you make small adjustments and celebrate each victory, no matter how minor it may seem, you’re laying the groundwork for lasting change.

Each step forward is a shift in the patterns of your family’s functioning. Over time, these small shifts accumulate, and the once daunting knot of anxiety begins to loosen. The changes in behavior, the growing resilience, and the improved coping strategies in your child will become more evident. And as these transformations take place, your family as a whole will find a new equilibrium, one that is healthier and more harmonious.

So, to all the parents out there grappling with the weight of their child’s anxiety, remember this: Start where you are, with what you have, and do what you can. Know that each small effort is a step towards a larger transformation. Be patient, be persistent, and believe in the potential for change. As you untangle each strand of difficulty, you are not just addressing symptoms; you are nurturing resilience and strength in your child that will last a lifetime.

In closing, I want to reaffirm that you are not alone on this journey. Many have walked this path before you, and there is support available. Starting small does not mean starting alone. Reach out, connect, and let’s untangle this knot together, one strand at a time.

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Understanding and Supporting Anxious, Irritable Kids

As parents, educators, and caretakers, we often encounter children who display anxiety and irritability. It’s natural to want to soothe their worries and calm their tempers. Yet, when we dive deeper into these challenges, we realize that the key is not to focus solely on the emotions themselves but rather on how the child is functioning despite these emotions.

Looking Beyond the Surface

At first glance, it’s easy to get caught up in the desire to see our children as beacons of positivity. The reality, however, can be quite different. Anxious and irritable children may not immediately transform into paragons of peace and contentment. It’s important to recognize that while their demeanor might not change overnight, their ability to cope with and perform necessary tasks can still be cultivated.

This is where our focus should lie: not on the external behavior that can come with anxiety, such as whining, foot-dragging, or arguing, but on their overall functioning. How are they managing their responsibilities? Are they attending school, completing assignments, and engaging in social activities? These are the measures of functioning we should be attentive to.

Embracing a Calm and Patient Approach

It’s a challenging journey, often testing the limits of our patience. But by tapping into our reservoirs of calm, we can provide a stable base from which our children can learn to manage their anxiety. Arguing with an anxious child often leads nowhere—except perhaps further into the cycle of avoidance and anxiety.

Instead, we can acknowledge their feelings—frustration, anger, sadness, worry—and still gently encourage progress towards the tasks at hand. This approach does not dismiss their emotions but rather validates them, while also emphasizing the importance of moving forward and functioning within their environment.

Progress Over Perfection

When encouraging a child to face something that scares them, it’s essential to concentrate on the progress they make rather than the peripheral behaviors that accompany their anxiety. If a child is worried about attending a birthday party, for instance, the goal becomes their attendance and participation, not the absence of complaints or nervous behavior before the event.

By focusing on the functioning—the act of showing up and participating—we set a realistic and attainable goal. It’s not about having a child who’s free from anxiety; it’s about having a child who can function with it. That’s the victory we’re aiming for.

In conclusion, it’s important to remember that as much as we wish to ease our children’s anxieties, we should also empower them to function through their worries. If you have questions or would like to discuss strategies for supporting anxious and irritable children, please feel free to reach out. Together, we can focus on building their resilience and their ability to navigate life’s challenges, one step at a time.

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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.

Are there techniques for teaching emotional regulation to anxious children? Read More »

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.

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

What about gentle parenting for older kids with anxiety?

This week is the question I got from a listener after they listened to episode 64, which was Are there any downsides to practicing gentle parenting with an anxious child?. Let me read you the whole thing, because it’s long and specific and I’ll be referencing their question in this episode.

Ok. Here it goes:: 

“I have always considered myself to be a gentle parent and that really worked for us when my son was small. He has always been intense and anxious and being there for him made a big difference in his functioning. But now he is ten and I feel like we’re stuck. I don’t know how to gentle parent a big kid. I am exhausted from his meltdowns and I don’t understand why he has them. He has had a full work up from a psychologist who said he is only anxious. But I don’t understand how to help him function better. We’ve tried therapy and he says he is bored and we didn’t get anywhere because he wouldn’t engage. Our worst times are bedtime when he won’t let me leave. I need some time for myself in the evening but I feel so guilty because he gets very upset. When I do try to leave, he just follows me so I end up giving in. I don’t know what to do.”

All right I have to tell you all I’ve heard so many versions of this from parents of little kids of bigger kids and even of much older kids. So if this describes your life, I want to tell you that you are not alone.

I mentioned in a previous episode that I brought my kids up in the gentle parenting community and I can remember at playdates and social events hearing discussions about big kids who won’t or can’t sleep alone and I can remember that some of the advice was to just get a bigger bed. And I had friends who did that. They had mattresses wall to wall, which worked for them. Everyone was ok with it. And I had other friends who also gave in, got a bigger bed or one parent slept with one kid and the other slept alone or with the other kid. I mean all kinds of musical beds. And that’s fine, too. If people are ok with it, then they’re ok with it. 

But lots of people are NOT ok with it for a million reasonable reasons and they feel bad about that. 

Because they’re supposed to be gentle parents, right? And gentle parents make sacrifices. Gentle parents prioritize their child’s well being. Gentle parents are patient and trust their kids to take the lead.

Here’s the problem with this. Gentle parents aren’t just parents, they’re people. And they have a right to their own well being. Part of parenting is helping our children adjust to a shift where they are no longer the center of the family. They are still important of course, they still need to be the priority, but there needs to be a healthy move towards more independence, and towards letting other people in the family have the spotlight now and then. Now this is a negotiation and how it looks will be different in every family. Some kids need more help, some parents have less time, it’s not a DO IT like this is the end of discussion period. It’s an ongoing discussion and collaboration.

You know, one thing that I’m often struck by in working with parents is that most of us get all the way to adulthood and parenthood without getting any formal instruction on child development so we don’t alway know what to expect from our kids. We don’t always know what’s realistic. Sometimes this means our expectations are too high, like expecting a toddler to have an attention span. But sometimes — especially for gentle parents who tend to err on the side of caution — our expectations are too low.

It’s reasonable to expect a 10-year old to be able to fall asleep alone. Now that doesn’t mean you have to do bedtime that way. If reading to your 10-year old and cuddling with them until they fall asleep makes you happy and is an enjoyable part of your day, then great. But if you’re unhappy or frustrated or resentful, you do not have to keep doing it. There is nothing selfish about wanting your 10-year old to go to bed by themselves. It’s fine. It’s ok to want that. It’s ok to build a plan to get that. And in fact, I’d say that if there are these problems at bedtime, there are likely other problems elsewhere and working on anxiety at bedtime may help in those other areas.

Just to be clear, it’s not that the family is doing this that’s the issue. That’s fine. It’s when people are doing things they don’t want to do, that are making people unhappy, that are holding kids back that it becomes a problem.

Gentle parenting should grow with the family. It needs to change as the family’s needs change. Here are somethings I want you to know about anxiety and gentle parenting.

Gentle parenting doesn’t mean that your needs are always on the chopping block. 

I strongly belief that in connected families where parents have worked hard to connect with their kids, that our frustration or impatience is a sign that our child is ready to grow. I think our impatience is a tool, a diagnostic tool, for what needs to happen next. So if you find yourself dreading certain parts of your parenting life, that doesn’t mean your a bad parent or that you have a bad kid, it means it’s time to look at that part of your parenting life and see what needs to change. 

Gentle parenting doesn’t mean doing whatever will make your child happiest. 

Happiest is not always healthiest. And short-term happiness doesn’t always lead to long term growth and contentment. We do not need to treat our kids like they’re made of spun glass. Our children need to know that we see them as resilient and strong and brave and capable. That means that sometimes we’re going to be pushy. We’re going to expect them to stretch. Some children need that gentle pressure to move to the next stage. If you have a child who’s always been a dragging their feet kind of kid, you can expect them to continue to be this way. 

Gentle parenting lends a different context to decisions.

When I talk to gentle parents about getting out of the parenting pitfalls and we decide on a course of action, like expecting the child to lay down alone at night, the parents often start to remember their own feelings of being abandoned and alone as a child and they become understandably fearful that they are asking too much of their child. But I ask them to remember that they are parenting from a different place of understanding, love and support. They are not walking away from their child. There is a plan, there is preparation. The child is informed and supported. There is a whole cohesive process based on the research and then personalized for that child and that family. And that makes all the difference.

If you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed or frustrated, please consider joining the program. You get the asynchronous courses, but you get me, too. I am there to offer you private personalized support through the live office hours in real time or via messaging in the site. 

What about gentle parenting for older kids with anxiety? Read More »

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