Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

Helping Children With Anxiety: What to Say to Children When They Are Anxious

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Helping Children With Anxiety: What to say to children when they are are anxious.

Anxiety has a way of making everyone feel helpless – the ones in the midst of an anxiety attack as well as the ones beside them who would do anything to make it better. It’s difficult to know exactly what to do when your little person is flooded with anxiety. Different things will work for different people, so don’t be afraid to experiment with what works best.

For children with anxiety, whatever you can do to be a strong, steadying presence will be the right thing to do. Nothing you say or do can make it go away, but if you can walk through it beside them, you’ll make a difference. 

Trust that they can cope, because they can – they’re amazing – and in time, as awful as it feels to go through it, and to watch them go through it, they will also trust their capacity to step bravely through their anxiety and come out the other side. Here are some things that can make a difference, but again, your child is the expert on their anxiety and what works, so be quick to take your cues from them:

When anxiety takes hold:

•  ‘You’re safe. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.’

You might not be believed straight away, but that’s okay. This isn’t about changing anything. It’s about offering warmth, safety and comfort the best way you can.

•  ‘Whatever you do now will be absolutely fine with me.’

Part of the stress of anxiety can be not knowing what to do, or being worried that whatever they’re doing might not be okay. Validating their response will empower them to move through the feeling in their own way, and at their own pace.

•  ‘Do whatever you need to do. Even if it’s nothing.’

This is permission for them to respond how they want to respond, without feeling silly or as though they need to explain or ‘fight’ their response. The less people feel the need to fight the feeling, the more likely it is that the feeling can come and then go.

•  ‘Let’s go for a walk and see if we can find your strong breaths.’

Physical activity is the natural end to the fight or flight response (which is where the physical feelings of an anxiety attack come from). Walking will help to burn the adrenalin and neurochemicals that have surged the body to prepare it for flight or fight, and which are causing the physical symptoms (racy heart, feeling sick, sweaty, short breaths, dry mouth, trembly or tense in the limbs etc). Try to help them to access their strong breaths while walking, but for children with anxiety, this will be easier if they’ve practiced outside of an anxiety attack.

•  ‘Your brain is thinking that it needs to protect you. Breathe – I’ll do it with you. It will let your brain know that you’ve got this, and that you’re okay. It just needs to know that you’re safe and then it will settle down.

Anxiety is from a fight or flight response, triggered when the amygdala in the brain perceives threat. It doesn’t matter whether the threat is real or not – the brain thinks it is and acts as though its true, fuelling the body to respond. That’s why anxiety feels like it does – every physical response is because the brain is getting the body to fight or flight. (See here for more of an explanation.) Breathing triggers the relaxation response which, like the fight or flight response, is also hardwired into all of us. Breathing can be almost impossible to access in the midst of an anxiety attack, so it’s important for them to practice strong breaths (in for three, hold for one, out for three, hold for one) each day when they’re calm, with the trigger words that work for them, so it’s easier to access when they need it. There are a couple of ways to do this:

>>  Invite them to imagine they have a cup of hot chocolate, and to breathe in the heady chocolatey smell for three, hold it for one, then blow it cool for three.

>>  Trace the infinity sign () with your finger on their back, hand or wherever feels right for them. Take 3 seconds to draw the left circle of the infinity sign and ask them to breathe in while you do this. Then stop for a second, and ask them to hold their breath – but just for a second. Now take three seconds to draw the right circle, and ask them to breathe out while you do it. Try to make it a fluid, relaxing movement – left circle for 3, hold for one, right circle for three.

These are just a couple of ideas to make practicing strong breaths fun, but whatever works for them is perfect.

And when they’re calm …

•  ‘I know how I feel when I feel anxious or worried about things, but I’d really like to understand what your worry feels like for you. Can you teach me?’

Empower them by acknowledging that they the experts of their anxiety – because they are. At the heart of emotional intelligence is being able to accurately identify a feeling when it happens. The more children with anxiety are able to verbalise what their anxiety feels like, the more capacity they will have to identify it, acknowledge it and act more deliberately in response to it. With this level of self-awareness comes an increased ability to manage the feeling when it happens, and less likelihood that the anxiety will hijack their behaviour.

•  ‘You don’t have to do this by yourself. Is there something I can do to help you feel less alone? Is it best if I say something? Nothing? Hold your hand? Touch your back? Give you space?’

There might not be anything that comes to mind for them, and that’s okay. 

•  ‘If you saw someone going through what you go through, what would you say to comfort them?’

This invites a different perspective and can give you some insight into what they need to hear when they are going through it themselves.

•  ‘What if you could do anything in the world when you feel like this to feel better? Anything at all – doesn’t matter how crazy it is. What would it be?’

Give them in fantasy what is difficult for them in reality. This can help to open up the options, so help them to play with the ideas. Often there’s a sense of stuckness that comes from anxiety, which can give anxiety more power than it deserves. Sometimes, the best way to finding something that works is straight through the middle of the crazy, silly things first, (‘What if I could get that worry of yours and feed it a whole truckload of jelly so it was too busy to bother you? Or maybe we could play it some sleepy music? Or maybe some fun ‘dancey’ music to wear it out? What do you think?’)

•  ‘I’m here to listen to you if you like to talk about it? There’s absolutely nothing you can say that would be the wrong thing.’

Give them plenty of space to talk about what’s happening, but don’t try to change it or fix it. The more you can validate what they’re feeling, and give them permission to feel it, the more they can move through it and experiment with ways to deal with it.

•  ‘I love you – all of you, and everything you do.’

Because it feels like magic, and is always a lovely thing to hear.

•  ‘Brains change. They’re pretty amazing like that. You won’t always feel like this. Every time you breathe through your anxious feeling, you’re helping to change and strengthen your brain. You’re doing something pretty amazing and the more you do it, the better you’ll get.’

Brains have an extraordinary capacity to change and the more children can understand and accept this, the more empowered they’ll be to working towards this. Here are some words to help with that, but nobody knows your child better than you, so adapt them to suit …

‘Think of it like this: Imagine that in your brain are two important parts – a ‘feelings’ part that feels everything that happens to you, and a ‘thinking’ part that thinks about everything that happens to you and helps you decide how to behave. They are connected to each other by a pathway that’s made up of billions of brain cells (think of each cell like a brick). The two parts communicate by passing information from one cell to the next, to the next, to the next. Anything that ever happens to you will always go through the feelings part first. That’s the way it is for everyone. Then, the information travels to the thinking part which helps you make good decisions and work out the best way to behave. 

When the connection between the cells is strong, the pathway will be strong, and the thinking part of your brain will be in charge of your behaviour. This is because as soon as the feelings part gets worried or anxious, the thinking part can send a message quickly back saying, ‘You’re okay. You can calm down now because I’ve checked things out and there’s nothing that can actually hurt us, okay? But thanks for watching over us.’ When the pathway isn’t strong, the thinking part can’t get its ‘calm down’ message through, so the feelings part surges your body with chemicals that fuel you up to fight for your life or run for it. The idea is to make you strong, fast and powerful so you can protect yourself from danger. It’s this surge that makes you feel the uncomfortable things you feel when you’re having an anxiety attack. 

What’s important to know is that the pathway between the feelings part and the thinking part can always be strengthened. Here’s how …

Each cell along the pathway is able to grow 15,000 new branches to help it to connect to the cells beside it. The stronger the connection between the cells, the stronger the path. Every time you do something that helps you move through your anxiety, such as breathing or mindfulness, the cells grow new branches that connect them to the cells beside them, and the pathway is strengthened. It’s like weightlifting for your brain! Like any exercising any muscle – the more you do it the stronger you’ll get. Be patient though and whatever you do, don’t give up – it can take a while to get near 15,000 but you’ll get there.’

(See here for the Smiling Minds Mindfulness App, for mindfulness exercises from 7 to adult – it’s brilliant. And it’s free.)

And finally …

When it comes to dealing with difficult emotions – and anxiety is certainly one of those – anything you can say to validate, rather than change what your brave little person is going through will be important. Experiment with different things – kids don’t break when the adults in their lives respond to them in a way that’s empowering, loving and generous.

To strengthen and protect children with anxiety, explore their feelings with them and help them to tap into their own wisdom about what works for them. When they’re given the space, and the encouragement and the freedom to explore and experiment, kids can come up with wonderfully unexpected solutions to the things that are troubling them. They can be pretty amazing like that.

You might also like …

‘Hey Warrior’ is the book I’ve written for children to help them understand anxiety and to find their ‘brave’. It explains why anxiety feels the way it does, and it will teach them how they can ‘be the boss of their brains’ during anxiety, to feel calm. It’s not always enough to tell kids what to do – they need to understand why it works. Hey Warrior does this, giving explanations in a fun, simple, way that helps things make sense in a, ‘Oh so that’s how that works!’ kind of way, alongside gorgeous illustrations.

 

 

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152 Comments

Sadie

Oh wow, I’ve had this article open for ages on my laptop, and only felt compelled to read it now (as I rediscovered it also!) as my 7 year old had his very first MASSIVE anxiety attack the other night… although, I’ve sensed it coming for a while. Intense fear of dying – which manifested into him believing he actually was dying. Like you say, I felt helpless – but happy to read I did SOME things right. So reassuring to read this article, thank you. Now I have a plan going forward about what to say when he’s calm… like now 🙂 I’ve subscribed I loved this so much. I was heartbroken the other night, this has really helped xx

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Hey Sigmund

I’m so pleased you had the article when you needed it! I hope it’s able to help your little man find comfort and a way through his anxiety.

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Andrew morris

This article was refreshing to read and resonated with how I would dearly have liked to have been understood when I was young. I particularly like the phrase ” whatever you want to do is fine… even if it’s nothing” . The empowerment aspect is so important, in my opinion. Thanks for bringing the article to share.

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Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome. I’m very grateful for your feedback – I completely agree with you about the importance of feeling empowered. It’s at the heart of our potential.

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Suzi Monaghan

Are there any tips in particular for a 5 year old girl that will be starting school in January 2016? The link to the mindfulness meditation app starts at age 7.
I’m very glad my searching has led me to your articles which was via Steve Biddulph’s facebook page.

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Hey Sigmund

I’m pleased you found me here – and thank you for letting me know how! Starting school is a big time for both of you (I know!) and it would be completely normal for you to be worried for your daughter. The more she can hear your confidence in her ability to be brave and cope with starting school, the more she will start to believe it for herself.

As it draws closer, have little chats about what things will look like – what will happen at drop-off and pickup, what you’ll be doing while she’s gone. (Let her know that you’ll be great, that you have lots to keep you busy and that you’ll be so excited about seeing her after school to hear about her day. If she’s not used to being away from you for a whole day she might worry about you, so keep that in the back of your mind if she’s struggling to separate from you). You don’t want to overwhelm her with too much information, but if you can fill in some of the unknowns for her she’ll be less likely to fill them in herself with something more worrying. Make the conversation upbeat for her so she can ‘catch’ your confidence in her (even if you’re not that sure – and it’s completely okay and understandable if you’re not, try to have her believe that you are).

Here is some more information that might help http://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-in-very-young-kids-11-ways-to-make-a-difference/. Mindfulness is amazing so if you can get her started with a few minutes of that, I think that would really help. Next week, I’ll be printing an article about ways to practice mindfulness in young children, so hopefully there will be some clues for you in there too. There are also kids books that are designed to guide younger children through mindfulness, so it might be worth having a look on Amazon. If you search ‘mindfulness for children’, that should throw quite a few up.

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Suzi Monaghan

Thank you kindly for your feedback. I will definitely look into the resources that you’ve mentored and keep an eye out for your next article. I’ve been looking into making story books of the future events to unfold with real photos. Hopefully then she will not fill in the blanks with worry of unknowns.
I’ve got the app on my phone now for me to do the mindful meditation practice too.
Thank you so much for your time to pass on such great advice.
Kind Regards
Suzi

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Lisa

Thank you for this. I have new things to try now if my son has any anxiety this school year. And like someone commented above, this would have also helped me when I was younger.

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Hey Sigmund

You’re welcome. I’m really pleased the information was useful for you. And yes, there’s a lot we know now that I wish was around all those years ago too!

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Hey Sigmund

I love hearing that you’re enjoying the site. The print option is the green button with the funny looking icon (which is meant to be a printer). On a laptop, the share buttons come up on the left hand side of the article, so click the green one and you’ll be sailing. On a phone or iPad, it’s behind the ‘Share This’ tab at the bottom of the article. Hope that helps!

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Linda Guinn

My daughter who is mildly mentally impaired is 31 and lives with me.She has been having lots of anxieties.She has been taking Xanax but I fear for the addiction to this drug.I need help with how to deal with it without so much medication.Thank you

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Lia

Thankful I found your site and learn something with every newsletter. This article was very helpful. My son is 10 and just started at the middle school. I have been working on the breathing for anxiety but I think he will really like the hot chocolate AND the infinity (back tickle) technique.

Thanks for helping me understand in layman’s terms what is going on inside of him.

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Amy Aubertine

Your information is invaluable to me as a professional and personally for my daughter who has anxiety. They are so well written and I can share them with school personnel, my family, other professionals and it spells things out so clearly. Thank you for this amazing service. –Amy A.

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Rose

This was so helpful. My son has lots of anxiety. I have been reading and praying and trying to find ways to help him. I am so grateful.

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Gracie

Thank you for this great article. I know several people who will be helped by this, and have shared it on a couple of FB pages. As one who deals with anxiety and panic attacks I wish people could respond to me in that manner now, even as an adult.

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Hey Sigmund

You’re welcome. I completely understand what you’re saying. One of the difficult things about anxiety is that despite the very best intentions of people, it can be so difficult to understand what it’s like to go through an anxiety or panic attack. We all need support and validation, even as adults, and you certainly deserve to feel that.

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Mandy

Thank you…I always find your articles so helpful & easy to understand. So helpful when your trying to relay it to your child & put it into motions in the heat of the moment.
Can I ask some advice?……..At the moment in some circumstances talking through the ‘moment’ & the breathing is not even an option for my daughter. She is almost 9, has always been anxious with accompanying belly aches & has had significant seperation anxiety (which is significantly better…yay us). At the moment though she is going through an extremely fearful stage that is getting progressively worse & at her peak moments she just wants to be carried. I’m trying to get her to just stand with me holding her but she just doesn’t want her feet touching the ground…….So basically do I stop trying to get her to calm down in other ways & do I just pick her up & let her feel safe regardless of her age??

Thank you!!

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Hey Sigmund

You’re very welcome Mandy. It sounds as though your daughter is having a tough time of things at the moment. It’s a huge credit to you that you have been able to help her with her separation anxiety – that’s not easy.

Now, about her anxiety attacks … In the thick of an anxiety attack, it’s really difficult to do anything that isn’t a habit, which is why getting her to breathe is a struggle. During anxiety, the fight or flight response takes over and it’s so strong and powerful, that anything that hasn’t been firmly established as a habit is pretty much overridden. That’s probably why it feels like breathing isn’t an option, because for her, it’s not. The trick is to practice it over and over when she is calm, so it becomes a habit and so she can access it really easily when she’s feeling anxious. This might take a little while because the fight or flight response is an automatic response – but absolutely it can be done. The relaxation response that is triggered by breathing is as hardwired as the fight or flight response, but it takes practice to make is easily accessible. Once it’s established though – by practicing breathing during calm time – she’ll have an easier time breathing strong breaths when she needs to. As soon as she begins strong breaths, the fight or flight response and the neurochemicals that have surged through her and caused the physical feelings will start to reverse. It’s a way to trigger the relaxation response – a very real response that’s hardwired in all of us. (It was discovered by a Harvard cardiologist and is explained here http://www.heysigmund.com/managing-anxiety/ )

It’s very likely that she won’t be convinced of the importance of breathing unless you explain the science behind it. It will be empowering for her to understand that her anxiety is a really normal physical response, (but one that very easily triggered for her) and why it feels like it does. The science is explained in this article in a child-friendly way and your daughter is a perfect age to understand it http://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-in-kids/ . Explaining where the physical feelings come from is important and will help her to understand why she feels the way she does. It will help to take away the the scariness of not knowing why these horrible feelings just come out of the blue, and the anxiety of wondering when they will come next. As you can imagine, that’s pretty frightening for for the toughest of us but being able to understand it can really help with this. If you can read it and then talk through it with her and help her to understand her physical symptoms, she’ll start to feel like she has some control over it.

In the meantime though, are you able to find out what’s happening for her when her feet touch the ground during an attack? The neurochemicals that surge through the body during a fight or flight response (this is a really normal thing to happen when the brain senses threat) are all geared towards getting her to fight or flee. Part of this is that fuel gets sent to the legs to power them up. When they don’t run away (because they don’t need to), the fuel (oxygen, adrenalin etc) builds up and makes the legs feel tense or trembly. It’s an awful feeling and this might be what she’s reacting to when she wants to be picked up. It’s completely understandable. The feeling of being picked up and having you hold her might ease this physical feeling. The other thing about anxiety is that it feels ‘flighty’ so being held can feel really comforting and ease that flighty feeling.

By now, it’s likely that she’s be anxious about the anxiety – the physical feelings that come with anxiety feel so dreadful that the anticipation of anxiety is enough to trigger an anxiety attack. This happens and is a really normal part of anxiety, so don’t worry – the important thing is for her to understand it so it has less power over her.

One of the problems with picking her up is that it is likely to be reinforcing that this is the only way for her to feel better, and soon she will be too big for you to be picked up. I can tell that you are doing this with the greatest of love for her and the best of intentions. I completely understand what it’s like to watch your kids struggling and of course you do anything to comfort them. She will get eventually get too big to be picked up and as well as this, it might get to a point as she gets older where other kids say things to her about being picked up – sometimes kids can seem a bit unkind about things they don’t understand. The important thing is to help her to find ways to cope that feel empowering for her and that she can maintain long term. I’m a big believer that kids are never too old to be cuddled and held (if that’s what they want), but picking her up might get in the way of her finding ways to cope that she will be able to keep doing as she gets older and bigger. You’re the best judge of that though.

So, help her to understand where her physical feelings come from – that’s really important – and explain how strong breathing immediately reverses the neurochemicals that are responsible for her feeling the way she does. Explain to her that the reason she can’t do this in the middle of an anxiety attack at the moment is because the part of her brain that is responsible for keeping her safe from a potential threat is very powerful and does its thing automatically, so she needs to build up her strong breaths to be just as powerful and easily accessible. Explain how breathing works to reverse the neurochemicals and the awful physical feelings that come with her anxiety. Cuddle her if she wants that – absolutely – but keep in mind that if you pick her up, it might stop her from finding ways to manage her anxiety that are more sustainable long term.

It sounds as though you are doing a wonderful job of managing this with her. If it gets to a point that it seems to be getting too much in her way, and undermining her self-esteem, a counsellor might be an option to help her with strategies to manage her anxiety and to feel strong and in control again.

Also

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Bob

Well written, thanks. I’m a psychotherapist working with children…this article is a nice resource to share with parent.

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Mum

I have a 13 year old who is up until 3am worried about school and friendships. I think it stems from low self-esteem and feelings of abandonment by her father. She talks of self harm and I’ve been to the dr and she sees a counsellor but nothing seems to work. I’ve constantly reinforced my love for her and that I’ll always be here. It’s heartbreaking to see her this way. I’m at my wits end because I don’t know what else I can do 🙁

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Hey Sigmund

This sounds like such a difficult time for your daughter, and for you too. You’re doing the right thing making sure she has professional support. You sound so loving and deeply committed to making this better for your daughter – I can hear how heartbreaking it is for you to feel as though nothing is making a difference.

If abandonment is the key issue as you say, counselling can really help with the messages your daughter has taken from her father’s leaving, the way she interprets his leaving, and what she believes his leaving says about her. Parents leave for all sorts of reasons, but never because their children are unloveable or unworthy, though it can certainly feel that way to their children. Parents are human, with all sorts of human vulnerabilities, histories and hurts, and unfortunately that can sometimes drive behaviour which is baffling and deeply hurtful to the people in their lives who want to feel loved by them.
The more your daughter is able to make sense of his leaving in terms of his own vulnerabilities and pain, the less likely it is that she will take it personally and feel broken by this, and the easier it will be for her to let go of worrying that other people will also leave her (if that is what’s happening for her). Depending on how your daughter has made sense of her father leaving, it may take time for her to think about it in a different way that is less harming to her, so change might take a while to show.

If your daughter is talking about self-harm, there is an important place for some sort of professional support. If the issue/s driving your daughter’s feelings and behaviour have been taking shape for a while, it will take a while to turn around but you’re doing everything you can to put her in the best position for this to happen. Keep doing what you’re doing – it sounds as though you’re doing an amazing job and doing everything you can to love and support her. I wish much love and strength to both of you.

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Bethy

My daughter went through a similar, absolutely horrible time at that age; having low self-esteem and strong feelings of abandonment from her father (who left quite unexpectedly when she was 9). I didn’t handle that well myself and will forever feel that THAT contributed significantly to our daughter’s pain.

‘Hey Sigmund’ said ” Parents leave for all sorts of reasons, but never because their children are unloveable or unworthy, though it can certainly feel that way to their children.”

On the day that he left. my ex-husband told our daughter “Your mother never loved me since the day you were born”, an appallingly selfish statement which appeared to validate her being the reason for our break-up, which was not the case at all!

I myself have low self-esteem so I REALLY did not want our daughter to suffer long-term through this problem.

The usual stresses around teenage girl social groupings and pecking orders in a new school, the need for acceptance, anxiety about not knowing what you are good at and what direction to take with education etc. all coincided. It was just awful!

Some professional assessment (obtained independently from school) proved that the lack of self esteem was unwarranted at least academically.

My daughter’s school, including their guidance counsellor, were not at all helpful over a long period – partially because they were ‘pushing’ their expectation of self-sufficiency for all their girls at the very time my daughter was having difficulty getting (independently) to the correct room at the correct time with the correct gear.
School apparently didn’t want to be seen to be making any exceptions!

So we struggled along, with plenty of hugs between us and love from family friends. Always endorsing just how lovable and wonderful a person she was, advice to just do your best and to treat others as she would wish to be treated herself.
Advice that I would always welcome sharing issues that were troublesome as well as those that were good.

The hormones settled, her body grew more slender (more ‘acceptable’); her academic achievements as an ‘all rounder’ showed over time, social groupings occurred around common interests. Great attractiveness and even superior organisational abilities were revealed – surprise!

Despite stressful disruptive earthquakes in our city, my daughter was sufficiently resilient to complete her high school years and achieve really well during a time where school site-sharing was necessary (shortened hours per week at school since two completely different schools shared one building site due to earthquake destruction).
She earned “Best All-Rounder” prize as a senior, then 2 scholarships for her tertiary education – choosing a career which was not what I had hoped for, but which followed her own passion.

She’s now completed her bachelors degree and an internship, has moved away from her home city, is living independently and has a reputation for competence, working in film production.

My daughter later told me how much she will always appreciate the love and support given at that horrible time as a young teen. (It didn’t stop us fighting during the ‘separation’ later teenage years though!)

She has resumed a relationship with her Dad (after declining to do so for about 5 years) but it’s pretty much on her terms.

‘Mum’, although watching your child suffer is horrible – at the time it all seems impossible – sometimes all you need to do is ‘be there’ for her and to help in whatever way seems natural to you as she finds her own way.

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Melissa

What a great article! So many great ideas – will definitely use those techniques with my child.

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Emilee

Your site is great, Do you have suggestions for young adults, especially males in their 20’s?

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Hey Sigmund

Thank you. And yes – here is some information that might help you:
>> Managing Anxiety: 8 Proven Ways http://www.heysigmund.com/managing-anxiety/
>> Dealing With Anxiety: The Facts That Can Turn it Around http://www.heysigmund.com/dealing-with-anxiety/
>> When Someone You Love Has Anxiety: http://www.heysigmund.com/when-someone-you-love-has-anxiety/
>> Anxiety: 15 Ways to Feel Better Without Medication http://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-without-medication/
Hope this helps.

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Chris

Thankyou for this, I have an 8 year old son who spirals out of control some nights because he can’t slow down his thoughts. I use humour and cuddles to relax him – but this has been very helpful and I will definitely be using some of these tips 🙂

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Rene

Thank you for this article. Last night my older teen let me know of her depression. So much anxiety over friends, church, future education. I just held her while she cried. She has a lot of medical issues. I think when they get her thyroid meds straightened out some of this will be more under control. But am also thinking we may seek out professional help to see if anxiety needs to be dealt with.

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Hey Sigmund

It can be so difficult to know what to do when your child is so sad sad, but you held your daughter while she cried which would have been so validating – your connection with her is important. I’m sorry to hear that she’s struggling like this, it sounds very confusing for her, and for you. You know your child better than anyone, so be guided by her and by your own inner wisdom as to the best course of action, and whether that involves professional support or otherwise.

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Sandra

Thank you for an inspiring article and words for children that are comforting and reassuring. I too wish I had these words said to me as a child… a lot of my personal pain and anxiety may have been relieved and put in perspective. How important it is for children to know they are loved, safe and accepted.

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Emma

Hi, my seven year old son has returned to school after the summer break and is having severe separation anxiety, relating to me. He is 7. He has always been quite shy and has low self confidence. Last term I started to see an increasing amount of anxiety, with avoidance behaviour such as not going to friends parties or play dates as it would mean not being with me I guess. At the minute he is so anxious that I have to physically manhandle him into school as he sobs, pleading for me not to make him go in. This starts the night before as his anxiety starts to build about the next day. He and I are utterly exhausted. Nothing I say or do seems to ease his anxiety, which is so upsetting. I keep taking him to school as I don,t want him to think this behaviour will mean he misses school. I am very worried about him and would be really grateful for any suggestions about how to manage this situation.

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Hey Sigmund

It sounds like your little man is struggling at the moment. I understand how difficult this must be for you, though you sound as though you are doing an amazing job in the way you’re handling it. At the moment, he’s most likely getting sideswiped by the physical feelings that come with anxiety – they feel awful and can also feel scary because they don’t seem to make sense – they just ‘happen’. Over time, there comes about an ‘anxiety about the anxiety’, which is why he desperately wants to avoid the situations that trigger the physical feelings. Something that can be really powerful is explaining why he feels the way he does. This can be really empowering and can help to ease the anxiety and the physical symptoms. It’s all explained here, including the child-friendly words to use (though adapt them in whatever way you think will work): http://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-in-kids/ . Here are some other things too that might help: http://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-in-very-young-kids-11-ways-to-make-a-difference/ . If it starts to really get in the way and you feel as though it’s starting to affect his self-esteem, counselling would be able to help your son to develop the skills to manage and understand his anxiety. I hope this is able to bring some comfort to you and your son.

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Ang

What can you do when your anxiety ridden child is 120kgs and 21 ! And they hate walking , moving or doing anything that can help them ?

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Hey Sigmund

All you can do is keep being encouraging, empower them with information, and hold back from the temptation to judge. I know that last one can be be difficult, and that any frustration is likely to come from a place of love, but the more someone hears judgement, the more likely it is that defensiveness will come into play. When that happens, nothing changes. I wish it was easier to help the people we love get out of their own way, but we all have our make our own moves towards growth when we’re ready. Here is some information that might be helpful for you to pass on, or to have a chat about …

This was written for young kids but it’s really empowering for adults to understand why anxiety feels the way it does. Anxiety in Kids how to Turn it Around and Protect Them For Life http://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-in-kids/. Here is an adult version, but most people have found the kid’s version more useful http://www.heysigmund.com/dealing-with-anxiety/ .

Here are some practical things to try http://www.heysigmund.com/managing-anxiety/ .

Anxiety: 15 Ways to Feel Better Without Medication http://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-without-medication/

Finally, anxiety can drain self-esteem, which can make change feel even harder than it is, but people with anxiety have some pretty amazing qualities. Your child might need a reminder:

The Things I’ve Learned About Anxiety (That Only People With Anxiety Could Teach Me) http://www.heysigmund.com/the-things-ive-learned-about-anxiety-that-only-people-with-anxiety-could-teach-me/
When Someone You Love Has Anxiety http://www.heysigmund.com/when-someone-you-love-has-anxiety/ .

I hope this helps.

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