Anxiety in Kids: How to Turn it Around and Protect Them For Life

Anxiety in Kids: The Skills to Turn it Around and Protect Them For Life

Anxiety is a normal response to something dangerous or stressful. It becomes a problem when it shows up at unexpected times and takes a particularly firm hold. When anxiety is in full swing, it feels awful. Awful enough that anticipation of the feeling is enough in itself to cause anxiety. Anxiety in kids can be especially confusing , not only for the ones who are feeling anxious, but also for the adults who care about them. 

We already know that anxiety has nothing to do with strength, courage or character. It picks a target and it switches on.

When that target is a child or teen, it can be particularly distressing, causing problems with sleeping, eating and missed school from unexplained illnesses such as sick tummies or headaches. 

One of the worst things about anxiety in kids is the way it can happen without any identifiable cause. The physical feeling is familiar – that panicked feeling that comes when you miss a stair or as my daughter recently described, ‘that feeling you get when you’re almost asleep and you feel like you’re falling.’ (‘Yes, we’ve dealt with it in our home too. It’s under control now, so I can assure you this works.)

The good news is that anxiety in kids is very treatable and they are particularly responsive. I often think we don’t give them enough credit. They’re so open to possibility, and very quick to make the right connections when they’re given the right information and support. As the adult in their lives, you’re the perfect one to give it.

Anxiety in Kids and Teens: Turning it Around 

  • Don’t talk them out of it.

    As a parent, the temptation is to reassure your child with gentle comments in the way of, ‘There’s nothing to worry about,’ or ‘You’ll be fine‘.

    This comes from the purest of intentions but it runs the risk of them feeling as though there’s something wrong with them. The truth is that when anxiety has a hold of them, they can no sooner stop worrying than fly to the moon. As much as they want to believe you, their brains just won’t let them.

    What they need to hear is that you get it. Ask them what it feels like for them. They may or may not be able to articulate – and that’s okay. Then, ask if it’s ‘like that feeling you get when you miss a stair,’ (or ‘that feeling you get when you feel like you’re falling in your sleep’). Often, this in itself is such a relief because ‘someone gets it.’

  • Normalise.

    Explain that:

    •. Anxiety is normal and everyone experiences anxiety at some time in their life – before an exam, when meeting new people, going for an interview or starting at a new school.

    •  Sometimes it happens for no reason at all. That’s also normal. It happens to lots of adults and lots of kids but there are things you can do to make it go away. 

  • Explain why anxiety feels like it does.

    Out of everything, this is perhaps the most powerful intervention for anyone with anxiety. Anxiety in kids causes the most problems when it seems to come on without any real trigger. There’s a reason for this, and understanding the reason is key to managing the anxiety.

    Here is a child-friendly explanation. I’ve used it for a variety of ages, but nobody knows your child like you do so adjust it to suit. 

    ‘Anxiety is something that lots of people get but it feels different for everyone. Anxiety in kids is common, and lots of adults get it too. It happens because there’s a part of your brain that thinks there’s something it needs to protect you from. The part of the brain is called the amygdala. It’s not very big and it’s shaped like an almond.  

    It switches on when it thinks you’re in danger, so really it’s like your own fierce warrior, there to protect you. It’s job is to get you ready to run away from the danger or fight it. People call this ‘fight or flight’.

    If your amygdala thinks there’s trouble, it will immediately give your body what it needs to be strong, fast and powerful. It will flood your body with oxygen, hormones and adrenaline that your body can use as fuel to power your muscles to run away or fight. It does this without even thinking. This happens so quickly and so automatically. The amygdala doesn’t take time to check anything out. It’s a doer not a thinker – all action and not a lot of thought.

    If there is something dangerous – a wild dog you need to run away from, a fall you need to steady yourself from – then the amygdala is brilliant. Sometimes though, the amygdala thinks there’s a threat and fuels you up even though there’s actually nothing dangerous there at all. 

    Have you ever made toast that has got a bit burnt and set off the fire alarm? The fire alarm can’t tell the difference between smoke from a fire and smoke from burnt toast – and it doesn’t care. All it wants to do is let you know so you can get out of there. The amygdala works the same way. It can’t tell the difference between something that might hurt you, like a wild dog, and something that won’t, like being at a new school. Sometimes the amygdala just switches on before you even know what it’s switching on for. It’s always working hard to protect you – even when you don’t need protecting. It’s a doer not a thinker, remember, and this is how it keeps you safe.

    If you don’t need to run away or fight for your life, there’s nothing to burn all that fuel – the oxygen, hormones and adrenalin – that the amygdala has flooded you with. It builds up and that’s the reason you feel like you do when you have anxiety. It’s like if you just keep pouring petrol into a car and never take the car for a drive.

    So when the amygdala senses a threat it floods your body with oxygen, adrenaline and hormones that your body can use to fuel its fight or flight. When this happens:

    ♦   Your breathing changes from normal slow deep breaths to fast little breaths. Your body does this because your brain has told it to stop using up the oxygen for strong breaths and send it to the muscles to they can run or fight.

    When this happens you might feel puffed or a bit breathless. You also might feel the blood rush to your face and your face become warm.

    ♦    If you don’t fight or flee, the oxygen builds up and the carbon dioxide drops.

    This can make you feel dizzy or a bit confused.

    ♦   Your heart beats faster to get the oxygen around the body.

    Your heart can feel like it’s racing and you might feel sick.

    ♦   Fuel gets sent to your arms (in case they need to fight) and your legs (in case they need to flee).

    Your arms and legs might tense up or your muscles might feel tight.

    ♦   Your body cools itself down (by sweating) so it doesn’t overheat if it has to fight or flee

    You might feel a bit sweaty.

    ♦   Your digestive system – the part of the body that gets the nutrients from the food you eat – shuts down so that the fuel it was using to digest your food can be used by your arms and legs in case you have to fight or flee. (Don’t worry though – it won’t stay shut down for long.)

    You might feel like you have butterflies in your tummy. You might also feel sick, as though you’re going to vomit, and your mouth might feel a bit dry. 

    As you can see, there are very real reasons for your body feeling the way it does when you have anxiety. It’s all because your amygdala – that fierce warrior part of your brain – is trying to protect you by getting your body ready to fight or flee. Problem is – there’s nothing to fight or flee. Don’t worry though, there are things we can do about this.’

  • Explain how common anxiety in kids is.

    Anxiety in kids is common. About 1 in 8 kids have struggled with anxiety – so let them know that in their class, there’s a good chance that 3 or 4 other kids would know exactly what they’re going through because they’ve been through it before. Maybe they’re going through it right now.

  • Give it a name.

    ‘Now that you understand that your anxiety feelings come from the ‘heroic warrior’ part of your brain, let’s give it a name.’ Let your child pick the name and ask them what they think of when they picture it. This will help them to feel as though something else is the problem, not them. It also demystifies their anxiety. Rather than it being a nameless, faceless ‘thing’ that gets in their way, it’s something contained – with a name and a look. 

  • Now get them into position.

    ‘The problem with anxiety is that [whatever their ‘heroic warrior’ is called – for the moment, let’s say, ‘Zep’] Zep is calling all the shots but we know that you’re really the boss. Zep actually thinks it’s protecting you, so what you need to do is let it know that you’ve got this and that it can relax. When you get those anxious feelings, that means Zep is taking over and getting ready to keep you safe. It doesn’t think about it at all – it just jumps in and goes for it. What you need to do is to let it know that you’re okay. 

    The most powerful thing you can do to make yourself the boss of your brain again is breathe. It sounds so simple – and it is. Part of the reason you feel as you do is because your breathing has gone from strong and slow and deep to quick and shallow. That type of breathing changes the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body. Once your breathing is under control, Zep will stop thinking he has to protect you and he’ll settle back down. Then, really quickly after that, you’ll stop feeling the way you do.’ 

  • And breathe.

    Breathe deeply and slowly. Hold your breath just for a second between breathing in and breathing out. Make sure the breath is going right down into your belly – not just into your chest. You can tell because your belly will be moving. Do this about 5 to 10 times.

    Practice before bed every day. Remember that Zep, the warrior part of your brain, has been protecting you for your entire life so it might take a little bit of practice to convince Zep to relax. But keep practicing and you’ll be really good at it in no time. You and that warrior part of your brain will be buddies – but with you in control.

    One way to practice is by putting a soft toy on your child’s belly when they lie down. If the toy is moving up and down, their breathing is perfect. 

  • Practice mindfulness.

    An abundance of scientific research has demonstrated the profound effects of mindfulness.  MRI studies have shown that practicing mindfulness increases the density of gray matter in the brain, providing relief and protection from stress, anxiety and depression. See here for more information.

    Mindfulness doesn’t have to be complicated. Essentially, it’s being aware of the present moment, and there are plenty of fun ways introduce children to mindfulness.  

    Start by explaining that anxiety comes about because of worry about the future and what might happen. Sometimes these thoughts happen in the background – we don’t even know they’re there. Mindfulness helps you to have control over your brain so you can stop it from worrying about things it doesn’t need to. It trains your brain to stay in the here and now. The brain is like a muscle and the more you exercise it the stronger it gets. 

    It sounds easy enough but minds quite like to wander so staying in the moment can take some practice. Here’s the how:

    1. Close your eyes and notice your breathing. How does the air feel as you draw it inside you? Notice the sensation of the air, or your belly rising and falling. Notice your heart beating. If your mind starts to wander, come back to this.
    2. Now, what can you hear? What can you feel outside of you and inside your body? If your mind starts to wander, focus on your breathing again. 

Remember that anxiety in kids is very treatable but it might take time. Explain to your child that his or her very clever and very protective brain might need some convincing that just because it thinks there’s trouble coming, doesn’t mean there is. Keep practising and they’ll get there. 

A Book for Kids About Anxiety …

‘Hey Warrior’ is a book 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 brain’ 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. (See here for the trailer.)






Of course this only works when there is no real threat, otherwise, the amygdala will remain active.


Hi, we are going through this with my daughter, it has been going on for nearly two years. She has just turned 12. She has always been quite confident, a hard worker at school she always works hard and achieves. If anything she always sets the bar very high for herself. Daytime is usually happy and fine, she is enjoying her first year of high school and has lots of friends and apart from the obvious changes suddenly being in an environment of older teens as well as growing and changing herself she seems happy. She has hit the point where she confides in my wife more than me but there doesn’t seem to be anything outside of our home and family life that is upsetting her. In February 2015 she had a run of colds and flu, she started developing bad headaches and migraines. At one point she was sick and started sleeping in our bed with my wife. The headaches became more of a problem and she spent more time in our bed while I slept in hers. This started to have an effect on the family and also my work. She was off school for nearly two months, we had seen specialists, one doctor basically told her to buck up and get on with it !! great!! We started seeing an osteopath who found she had slightly exaggerated bone growth in one of her vertebrae at the top of her neck, nothing major but it was possibly causing muscles in her neck to tense and in particular muscles that wrapped over the top of the head which is often where she complained the headaches began. We started to think it was some kind of tenseness brought on by stress which then caused the headaches and that is was just her body growing that was making it happen more now. So over time and treatments of massage she began to control the headaches a little more. By the summer she was more in control but still sleeping in our bed. Every time we tried to settle her back to her room it caused problems and she wouldn’t sleep and was tearful. If she got very upset it would trigger a migraine, so we were trapped, we wanted her in her own room but couldn’t get her to without getting upset and having a migraine. By christmas 2015 we decided to make efforts to encourage her back to her bed and redecorated her room and got her a nice new grown up bed, she loved it and was very excited. It had a pull out second bed that my wife could sleep on and then move back to our room. Every time she tried, my daughter would stir or wake up, since then she has developed night time routines that can take longer and longer to finish, she will sit on the edge of the bed with my wife trying to sleep next to her on the pull out mattress and she will cry for her. She wants to have the light on to sort out her hair before laying down, she has to arrange cushions, there are a few routines we have broken and after tantrums it has passed and she has moved on. But she can get inventive and suddenly something simple becomes a routine. We have tried to see a specialist therapist but we have no family near us and it is very difficult to arrange time to see her as she wants to see us first. We are currently still in this situation, some nights go quite well and she settles but it has affected our whole lives, everyone has to be ready for bed by 8pm, including me if I want a bath, as the bathroom is next to her room. I then try to catch up work in my office, but my wife and I have no time together to talk about our day or even how we’re going to handle this. My son is getting increasingly short patience with his sister, as she keeps him awake too. Most nights or at least alternate nights we have a bad episode and despite being in bed my wife, daughter and son will not get to sleep until 11pm or even midnight. So everyone is run down, exhausted, grumpy. My wife has been ill over the last few weeks and lack of sleep has hindered her recovery.
We are very supportive to our kids, we help them with their homework, we read to them every night and have tried to do the very best we can through this situation.
I have read through many stories on this topic and a lot of people seem to at least be able to settle their children enough to leave the room, this would be an absolute gift for us at the moment.
Any thoughts or suggestions would be extremely welcome.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Martin, first of all I want to say that you and your wife sound like wonderful parents – supportive and empathic and just what your daughter needs. I completely understand why her bedtime routine needs to be sorted out though. It sounds as though it is causing a bit of disruption for the whole family, and I imagine it also isn’t the way your daughter wants her night-times to run.

Here is an article which I think might have a useful strategy for you Take a look at number 6, the stepladder. This is a gentle way of introducing a new behaviour which is your case, would be getting your daughter to fall asleep in her own bed on her own. It’s really important that this isn’t rushed. It sounds like the bedtime issues have been there for a while, so they will take a while to let go of. One of the first things to move towards is not being there when she falls asleep, and I can see this something that’s causing trouble at the moment. The problem with being there when she falls asleep is that when she moves between cycles of sleep and gently stirs (as we all do) it can panic her to find that she is on her own, when there was someone there when she fell asleep. So – work through the stepladder with her. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, as long as she is on board.

It will be important to stick to the same bed time each night so her body knows when to expect it. At 12, she is just starting to enter adolescence. Over the next little while, you might notice that she wants to stay up later. This is really normal for adolescence. Their sleep cycles start to change. The sleep hormone (the hormone the tells your body it’s time to start getting sleepy) doesn’t release until about 2 hours later than it does in the rest of us, so they tend not to get sleepy until 9, 10, 11 pm. It may be that 8pm is a little too early for her. Her body just might not be ready to settle then, so the battle will be harder because her brain will be telling her that it’s not time to settle yet. If you get a sense that that might be causing some trouble, if you can, try letting her stay up a little later (make it part of the deal with the stepladder).

Another thing to add to her bedtime routine is mindfulness. If she can do ten minutes of this before bed as part of her bedtime routine, it will be strengthening her brain against anxiety (here is an article that explains how that works and helping her to settle. There are apps that can help with this. Smiling Mind is one. Smiling Mind was just used in a trial in Australian schools with some great results. Here is a link to the app

Also, have a look at 2,3,4 and 9 (especially 4 – you can use it as part of the stepladder) in this article

I know how disruptive to everyone bedtime struggles can be. I hope these are able to help your family.


Hi Martin,

I have a 10 year old daughter who has just started this type of behaviour over the last two months. I have just began sessions with a child psychologist for her. I have been lost at what to do. She aswell has lots of friends, is in a few sports which she is extremely good at, most times achieving special achievement trophies etc, all the things that would make a child happy and boost their confidence, she’s an SRC at school, academically aswell she puts lots of effort in and aswell sets her targets very high. She does lots of socialising, and definatley nothing outside the family home upsetting her. The way it all started is she was planned to sleep over at a very close friends of ours, their daughter us 10 and have been best friends for years. I got a call from the mother saying she wasn’t feeling well in the stomach and wanted to come home, aswell she was crying. We took her home and the next day during the day was happy and wanted to return to her friends house saying she wanted to stay the night again. Come to the afternoon and we got a call she was crying again with pains in the stomach. So we picked her up and took her home. The following week at school I was calked 3 times saying she was unwell in the stomach shaking and crying, I took her to the doctors they did a blood test, urine test and aswell a stomach ultrasound. Everything returned as normal. The doctor wrote a mental health plan and sent it off to the psychologist. Since then she can’t hear any noise at night, complains daily of sore head and stomach and tells me she can’t get a song out of her head and worries ahead about everything, she has to be always in close contact with myself and aswell as I write this is in my bed, complaining that she can’t sleep and her mind is over thinking. The whole house has to go onto lock down by a certain time because she can’t sleep with one ounce of noise. She continues to have the school call me and can’t focus in class as she has feelings of worry for lots of different things which she herself can’t explain. – she constantly tells me that she can’t get songs out of her head that make her feel sad. And she cries a lot all the time. I’m at a loss with what to do, she’s changing slowly becoming more withdrawn and worries about catch ups and socialising with her friends like she doesn’t want to. I have been told she may suffer anxiety, could you advise of anything you have found helpful for your daughter the rearranging of the room sounded great besides we are living at my brothers ATM and we are unable to do this, she also sleeps in a room with my other younger daughter and can’t sleep near her tells us that she makes too much noise when she’s sleeping. If there’s anything you know that could help would be great anything you may have found out. It hasn’t been two years for us and we are feeling the affects. Kindest regards Joanna

Anya Boynton

I’m so sorry you’re going through this! It sounds like your daughter may have what my son has PANDAS. It’s completely treatable through diet.

Janet Raddatz

I disagree that pandas is completely treatable through diet. Perhaps for some if food is causing inflammation or is the trigger. We worked at length through diet changes but my older pandas only responds to antibiotics (specifically azithromycin). Diet is an important part but the treatment guidelines listed through the US National Institute for Mental Health are equally important to consider.

Anna Mertz

Your daughter sounds like me when I was younger… I had OCD as a child but hid it very well and didn’t want to talk about it, so no one really caught on. Bless her heart.


Im desperate for some help with my 6yr old girl who is terrified of any alarm or loud noises. She freezes and cries and you can see the terror in ger face. My husband and i are desperate to know how to deal with this as nothing we are doing is working. We remain calm try to talk her through it but she says shes fine now but we know shes not. She know is scared of most loud sounds and it was only alarms at first. Please help us.


Jemma, try looking into sensory processing instead of fears and anxiety. My son was exactly the same way when he was your daughter’s age. With the help of an occupational therapist who understood sensory processing deficits, we were able to help him through that stage of his life. He is able to manage loud and unexpected noises much better now.


Does your daughter have difficulty with auditory processing? Sounds can be amplified and unbearable. Movement and exercise help with this.


I would suggest looking into other medical causes. Another commenter mentioned PANDAS. I would suggest an alternative health practitioner familiar with the condition and others like it, or a PANDAS / PANS expert.

Janet Raddatz

Martin – have you heard of p.a.n.d.a.s. Whenever I hear of sickness followed by separation anxiety, ocd behaviour (the specific laying out of her pillows, hair, etc) and generally a sudden change in behaviour, that could be it – it was for my two sons. Google ‘p.a.n.d.a.s.’ and you will see descriptions, etc. I’ll bet your own family doctor has never heard of it – mine had not – but it is an underlying cause of many so called “mental illnesses”.


Hello. I read this article as one of my children suffers with anxiety and I am always keen to read about ways to deal with it. After tonsillitis last Feb my daughter’s behaviour changed dramatically. Her anxiety became very pronounced – particularly her separation anxiety. When she was away from me in the day she was ok (after initial difficulties leaving me). Her behaviour at home however became very difficult and it was tricky for us all as a family. Sleep was particularly affected. She didn’t want to be in a room on her own – she has slept with either my husband or I for nearly a year. She couldn’t get to sleep and was a very light sleeper. She was sleepwalking; she looked exhausted and she got very (VERY) upset easily. It was very isolating for us all as this extreme anxiety made it difficult for us to behave normally as a family. But we have come through the other side. Thankfully due to the most amazing doctor we know – she has been treated for PANDAS. She is on a constant dose of antibiotics and has been for 8 months. It took a long time for it to settle down but it has. She is sleeping on her own again. She is going to sleep. She is happy.


Hello, I’m glad to hear your daughter is feeling better. My daughter went through someting like this after an illness, it was a year ago. She was doing better but started noticing this behavior again. Could they check for pandas even though her symptoms started a year ago? She was ill may 2016. Thanks for any feedback. Can I please have the name of the doctor?


My son has suffered with anxiety all his life he is now 12 years old and has been poorly since January with servere anxiety and functional bowel disorder caused by his anxiety. He has not been able to attend school and has recently started medication to try and help him get out of the cycle of behaviour. He refuses to try techniques that will help him as he wants to see results fast. How do you help a child who does not want to move forward?

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Rebecca I hear you. It can be difficult when they want an instant fix. It might be helpful to explain where anxiety comes from, and also that if his brain has been doing this for a while, it will take some time to ‘untrain’ it. He needs to understand that brains can change. Here is an article about anxiety in teens that has a little more explanation about the effects that mindfulness and exercise etc have on the brain and how they can change the structure and function of the brain to protect it against anxiety. The information and the explanation can be key to making it make more sense. Here is the article Hope it helps.


Wow, what a powerful article! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insight with the world!
Just this afternoon my 16yo daughter said she thought her trouble was anxiety attacks – something I really know nothing about, which I proceeded to tell her. She has been struggling with stomach cramps, nausea, irregular heartbeats, flushing and trouble breathing for over a year now, but looking back, there may have been signs and symptoms much earlier. The doctors say she is fine, she sees a councilor and has changed schools, as high school seemed just beyond her… As her mum I know that she isn’t “fine”, but I had no understanding of anxiety until now.
Will share this article with her and hopefully it will help us both – me in understanding her and her in dealing with that panic maniac inside her 🙂


Thanks so much for the article. My son is 8 yrs old. He has been suffering with anxiety since he started kindergarten.
He had a very strict teacher. He couldn’t eat breakfast and cried at night begging to please not make him go to school. He threw up every morning, we packed his lunch but he wouldn’t eat anything.
First grade and second grade was better
He had softer spoken teachers and that seemed to help.
He’s in the 3 Rd grade this year and it hasn’t gotten worst. He throws up every morning and sometimes at school. He struggles in school and is in IEP classes. The teachers, principal, my mother and husband don’t really understand anxiety. They think punishing him is the answer. He is going to a Christian counselor and has an appointment with a psychiatrist in a couple weeks. I understand anxiety because I deal with it myself. How do I get my family to understand that anxiety is a disease just like diabetes? How can I help my son? I hurt for him so bad.
Thanks for your help!

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Sandy it breaks my heart to hear that there are kids struggling because the adults around them don’t understand anxiety. All kids need support to develop into the very best versions of themselves. Kids with anxiety don’t need any more support than other kids – just different support. The truth is that when kids with anxiety are given the right support, their strengths (and they have plenty!) really shine and they can do amazing things.

It’s really important that your son understands where his anxiety comes from. This takes the mystery out of it and stops it being so scary. Talk to him about the explanation in this article. Here are some other articles that might help:

(This one is for your son.) 18 Important Things That Kids With Anxiety Need to Know
What to Say to Kids When They are Anxious
Dealing With Anxiety – How to Calm and Strengthen an Anxious Brain
Dealing With School Anxiety: Powerful Things That Adults Can Do
How to Empower Your Child to Deal With School Anxiety
(For his teachers, the principal) Anxious Kids at School – How to Help Them Soar
Anxiety: 11 Interesting Facts You Might Not Know
(This is a more adult version of this article that explains the physiological basis of anxiety – this is what the adults in your son’s life need to understand – anxiety is physiological.)

Your little guy will have wonderful strengths and he is very lucky to have you (as you are him). Anxiety can be managed. It’s a matter of helping them understand where it comes from and giving them the skills they need to strengthen their brains against anxiety and helps them to manage their symptoms – which they can do. I hope this helps.


Thank you so much for this!

We have started to work with my 6 year old daughter with the info from this article. We switched her to a new school 4 weeks ago. From a school she had attended since 18 months. This new school she does wonderfully in but when she gets home its crazy the way she acts out and her words.

This is a child that 4 weeks ago called me, her mom her bestfriend, she was so loving kind. ALWAYS thought of others. Always wanting to play and be with me. I couldnt even go to the bathroom by myself. She was so sweet.
The first day at the new school she met a 2nd grader. Who has become her friend. The child asked her who her bestfriend was. She said her mom and the girl said that didnt count. I just found out 4 weeks later she has been worrying about this but wont talk about it. Im worried she is becoming a follower and not using what we have instilled in her head. She is independent and never had a problem thinking for herself.
Then we have always stressed to her boys are for later in life. Its ok and natural to have a crush or “see” one boy different than the other. And we don’t allow tv shows with teenagers in it and so forth.
The first 11 days of school she constantly complained of her tummy and head “feeling funny” The 11th day she had a dizzy spell so on way to the ER she confessed she had a crush. Then all was well no more “funny feelings”.

Then its started again here and there. Now she tells me she doesnt love me. She called me fat the other day. This is a child who was always telling me she loves me. How pretty i was. Now she says she doesnt want to play with me or want me around.

All I have done is givin her a “safe place” to talk. Ive told her that I am here to teach her right from wrong. she has ALWAYS come to me and been VERY open till now. I have let her know she is only 6 and there is nothing she has done or thought that is bad because she is still learning. She gets so upset because she says everyday “mommy i have something to tell you but i dont want to” but its making me worry and my tummy hurt.; Everyday I let her know im here for her. that i wont get upset and when she is ready let me know.

Now its making me terribly sad. I cant help her.
She constantly is saying ” i was thinking this” or that. She will say “you look pretty mommy but what i was thinking is you dont” or “dinner was good but what i was thinking is that it didnt taste good”

This new school I understand she has new friends. is hearing new conversations about stuff in life she never has heard of or even had to face. I understand its stressful but this acting out at home with these words is hurtful and crazy.
I have tried everything. Im teaching her about this article now. but its like she isnt hearing me.
Sorry I rambled!

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Amy I completely understand why this would be hurtful for you. Your gorgeous girl is still there, it sounds as though she’s just experimenting a little with some of the new ideas she’s been exposed to. It’s not surprising that this is causing her some anxiety. She knows how she wants to feel, but she’s also being tempted to look at things through other eyes as well, which is completely okay and normal. What’s important is that she comes back to her own mind and what she knows to be right for her. It is clear she is conflicted. The more you can acknowledge her confusion and feed this back to her, the more she will be able to work through it. Let her know that it’s really okay to feel two things at once, or to feel something and think something else, but that what is the most important thing is her behaviour. Feelings, thoughts and behaviour don’t always match, which is why they have to be the boss of their brains and make good choices in relation to what they do. This is a confusing concept for little ones, but it sounds as though you are guiding her beautifully. Keep talking about the warrior in her brain and let her know how much you love that she can think for herself. Kids will live up to expectations or down to them, so name the things you see in her that you want to flourish.

Here is an article that might help too. Have a look at number 2, 3 and 15 in this article. It is about how to encourage empathy and kindness in children, which is something that will take a while to develop and nurture in all kids (don’t worry about the bullying bits – she is definitely not a bully!) She sounds like a wonderful little person who lives life in full colour. She is hearing new things and seeing how they fit for her. This is a really healthy part of growing up. It sounds as though you are guiding her through beautifully.

Imelda M

Good morning, I have a 7 year old daughter and 5 yr old son. My daughter gets very scared and cries when something has been lost, either a toy or if I misplaced my phone she automatically starts saying “we’re never going to find it, what if is lost forever, etc..” even one time the 3 of us were in an elevator and it was taking time to move so she started to feel scared and started making remarks of “what if we never get out of here” I try to help her by telling her everything will be fine or don’t worry, if something gets lost, we can buy another one, but sometimes this doesn’t help. any tips/comments are appreciated.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Try the strategies in the article. The problem is that your daughter is having anxious thoughts, but they feel like predictions. They’re not – they’re just her brain trying to protect her. It’s really important that she understands what’s driving her anxious thoughts, which is why the explanation can be so powerful for kids. Here are some other things to try Telling her not to worry, or that everything will be fine won’t help because it will just feel as though you don’t ‘get it’. Try validating her concerns – ‘I know it can be really upsetting when you lose things and it’s normal to worry that you won’t find them again, but let’s keep looking and see what we can do’ – or something like that. Once she feels heard and validated, this will help to calm her nervous system and ease her symptoms. The more she thinks you don’t understand (which is what she will feel if you say ‘don’t worry’), the more she may feel the need to convince you that something isn’t right. Hope this helps.

David Brown


My 8yr old son (only child) has always been a little quiet with people he doesn’t know and is quite sensitive. However, he has always seemed happy. School has been a struggle in parts since he is dyslexic, but he tries hard and does well despite his difficulties. In the last week though he has been tearing up at the thought of going to school, and dropping him off has been an ordeal. The teachers are able to calm him down and he is largely ok afterwards, but it starts again the next day. It all seems to stem from an incident with a spider in the class that fell onto his head and he imagined more in his hair/ears etc. Since then hes been acting odd. At home, he seems ok and behaves ‘normally’. Any ideas?

Karen - Hey Sigmund

David what you are describing makes sense. It sounds as though at the time, your little man had something happen that was frightening and unexpected. Memories are powerful and can be triggered by anything that is associated with the original incident. For your son, school or the classroom might be doing this. At the moment, they might be triggering the feelings associated with the spider incident, but without the context (because there is no spider any more). This can feel overwheming and confusing – big feelings but without anything to attach them to or make sense of them. It’s okay – this is normal after something distressing happens and there are ways to move through this. This article will help with that Hopefully this will help your son to feel better in time.

Have him talk about the incident.


Thank you so much for this article! Our 8 year old daughter has had increasing anxiety that hit a new high with the start of school. She was sad to leave the house, crying at school drop off, and we had seen a marked change in her personality. We had already added a jorinal for her to write about her feelings and soothing music at night for sleeping. We talked about anxiety, fight or flight, and the amygdala with her today, following the recommendations in your article and already we have seen glimpses of our girl coming back to us. She named her amygdala Nicky and and says that he is a dragon warrior, who is super protective. Putting her in control of Nicky has already made a huge difference and it was like seeing a light switch turn on. She knows she has the power to ask for help now and vocalize what was before a scary and unknown process happening to her body. Thanks again for making everything so relatable and easy to understand for kids.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Sara you’re so welcome. It sounds as though you are dealing with this beautifully with your daughter and her anxiety and giving her exactly what she needs. Keep doing what you’re doing. I love that your gorgeous girl has called her dragon warrior Nicky! What a team.

jonathan hoover

My 9 year old son has been complaining for several weeks about a “feeling in his stomach”. His mother and I are divorced and it has been stressful for him. What do I do? Is it the onset of puberty or is it something more? He outright panics and gets overwhelmed by it and just cries. i feel so helpless.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Jonathan the first thing is to make sure there isn’t a physical illness behind his symptoms. If there doesn’t seem to be a physical cause for the feeling in his stomach, it’s very possible that it’s anxiety, particularly given that there is stress around him and the panic and overwhelming emotion you describe. The part of the brain that is responsible for anxiety is also responsible for emotions, so when it’s at full volume, crying is a really normal and common response. Use the strategies in the article. Talk to him about where the physical sympoms and his panic are coming from. Knowledge is very empowering. There are a heap of articles on this link that will also talk about other strategies Take your time over them and focus particularly on the ones about kids. If you feel that your son’s anxiety is getting in the way, it might be worth speaking with a counsellor who can help him with some strategies to manage and understand what’s happening for him.


Hi, my son is 13 and I’m almost positive he is suffering with extreme anxiety! He has been the target for bullies for the past 2 years as he is a big lad, lately if we invite him any where i.e. Party’s weddings, meals with family or friends he doesn’t want to come! He did come to a meal the other week, when we arrived he was fine, but when we had sat down to look at the menu he just said he wanted to go home, and he started to cry! When I took him outside to talk to him I asked what the matter was, and he said he didn’t like the atmosphere and that he was scared! I’m really struggling getting him out of the house to play with friends, all he wants to do is sit on computer or Xbox. He will go to family houses who he trusts but I’m at my wits end! I feel so sorry for him but I don’t want him to become unsociable and lose the good friends that he has. He is very popular and a very funny lad with a wicked sense of humour and a heart of gold! Can anyone share and advise that may work. Thank you

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Laura it sounds gorgeous young man! Explaining the physical symptoms of his anxiety the way the article does will be a good place to sart. Crying can be all part of anxiety – the part of the brain that is involved in anxiety also deals with emotions. Anxiety can be so intrusive and confusing but it can be really empowering to understand where it comes from and also that your son is not alone. There are so many strong, capable, incredible people who struggle with anxiety.


I often read your site and you’ve been a great help in the past. My 16 year old daughter suffers from severe anxiety that started when she was 9 yrs. old. She learned to manage it through breathing, therapy and has managed so far to work through it without medication. The anxiety often revolves around school (social anxiety, test anxiety, anticipatory anxiety before school…) Her 11th grade school year begins tomorrow and she spent the later part of this evening pacing and panicking. She actually caused herself to be physically ill because she’s so worried about school tomorrow. It’s always bad at the beginning of the year and it usually gets better over time but she has constant anxiety provoking issues come up throughout the year due to her testing anxiety, etc. She’s got quite a few friends and is well liked, so I hate to see her miss out on the experience but lately she’s been asking about starting on-line school instead of going to school. She took a summer online math course through a community college and she did really well. She now has the idea that she could do that instead of high school and pursue her diploma that way. She says she’s so much happier when she doesn’t have to go to that school and wants to carve out her own path. My initial reaction is “no” but seeing her so stressed for so long and seeing how unstressed she was over the summer makes me wonder if I should consider it. I would love to know your thoughts. Thanks in advance.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

The beginning of the school year is often difficult for kids with anxiety. Even if they know the school and have a good bunch of friends, there are still new things to have to get used to. Having said that, it sounds as though her anxiety is fairly consistent throughout the year. It’s a difficult issue. The risk with avoidance is that it will lead to greater avoidance. The learning is that the only way to feel safe is to avoid the things that trigger her anxiety. This learning makes sense, but it becomes a problem if it takes away the opportunity to learn how to cope with the things that feel difficult. Anxiety tends to be something that needs to be managed, so learning how to cope will be really important moving forward.

Having said that, if she is really struggling and it is getting in the way of her grades, it might be worth exploring the option. Are you able to speak to her school counsellors? They will hopefully understand her and will be able to let you know if they think she can manage the school year with support, or whether it is worth exploring options. If it was my daughter, I would encourage school until it was clear that it was really getting in her way. Exercise, sleep and mindfulness are really important in managing anxiety. There’s also a ton of evidence that links gut health to anxiety, so a probiotic might also be helpful. A naturopath or pharmacist should be able to help you there. If you have exhausted all of the options, and she has tried everything to manage it but her anxiety is still causing her a lot of distress, I would certainly be open to exploring other options. I completely understand how difficult this decision is for you. Be guided by your daughter and your gut.

So to summarise … If you can encourage her to keep going to school, she will hopefully learn ways to cope that will hold her strong moving forward. Part of this plan should definitely involve at least exercise, enough sleep, and regular mindfulness. If it is causing her a lot of distress, see if you can talk to the school counsellor and see what they would advise in light of what they know about the school year and also what they know of your daughter. All the best with your decision. Whatever you decide, I don’t think either decision will be a wrong one.


Thank you so much for your thoughtful response. After I posted this, she attended her first, second and third day and everything went very well. She actually had plans after school every day with different friends and I was hoping this might be the beginning of a great year. Unfortunately, however, she had a bit of a crisis today when she was called upon in class to answer a question and she froze up. She had to leave the class in tears and now I’m afraid her confidence is shaken again. It seems to be a constant battle. I hope she can get to a place where she won’t be so susceptible to her own anxiety.
Sleep is definitely an issue, and her schedule is upside down right now but I’ll work on getting her onto a better schedule and routine and hope that helps.


Life acts in mysterious ways and your website appeared to me linked from an article on a homeschool blog (of all things!)…right when I’m finally aware that my 11 yr old daughter has anxiety and needs us to help her! Thank goodness I’ve found this site as you are gifted in your explanations of anxiety and ways we can help our kiddos.

My daughter is gifted and we’ve always thought of her as highly cautious, averse to risk-taking, fearful of not getting it “right”. For the past year she has suddenly stopped wanting to do be a part of sleepovers. We didn’t do many anyway, but we moved a few years ago to be closer to family so that they could watch our kids while my husband and I reconnect on dates, day or overnighters. At first she was ok, but suddenly her foot was down and her tears were flowing at the thought of staying overnight. She has no problem going from sun up to sundown, but can’t bear the thought of staying overnight. She says if we stay there, too, she’d be ok. Thinking she’d prefer to stay in her element with her routines I offered the idea that they come to our house while we’re away, but this doesn’t solve the issue. When I ask for details she can’t name the reason, just says “I don’t know why, it just feels wrong and scary.” She loves all the activities my in-laws do with them, loves my in-laws who really are dreamy and so accepting and patient and caring. It really does seem unfounded. I have failed her and pushed her to try again last month. The afternoon I dropped her off was awful because she just couldn’t settle in, seemed to have her thoughts gripped by fear that she’d have to sleep there. But the next day she was really engaged and had a great time. Maybe just because she knew we were coming that evening? I don’t know.

My husband and I desperately want space from the kids here and there, not often, but a couple weekends a year. I don’t want my daughter to feel at fault that we can’t take time to ourselves, I can see that she worries about this. I hope I haven’t ruined this all yet. She finds it difficult or embarrassing to talk to me so I suggested we email each other which she likes.I plan on beginning conversations with her today guided by your phrasing. More than gaining our marital time back, I’m wanting to make sure that she begins to see that this isn’t her fault, that others struggle with anxiety too, and that she can begin to have more control on it as we continue to put our efforts there. She is otherwise such an independent, capable girl and that feeds so much of her confidence that I worry this will negatively impact her footing. As a mom of a daughter in this world, I so want her to be strong and confident!

Thank you for taking such care to put out all of this information and making it accessible to those of us looking for answers. Knowledge is power! I’ll be your best student as we begin a path toward better management. 🙂

Hey Sigmund

Jayme what a wonderful mom you are! I’m so pleased the information found its way to you. Anxiety is really difficult to understand and recognise if you’re not familiar with it. One of the confusing things about it is that it often has no identifiable trigger and the kids who get it are often really bright and very emotionally intelligent. Even with people they adore, anxiety can find its way in so what you are describing makes so much sense. I love the emailing idea – anything that helps them to feel okay about talking is gold. Something that is really powerful for anxiety is mindfulness. There is a ton of research showing how it strengthens the brain against anxiety. Here is a link (in case you haven’t read it yet) with ideas for mindfulness exercises for kids You have certainly NOT ruined anything! You have everything it takes to support her beautifully through this.


Hi Karen, Please help us understand our 11 years old son situation.
We went on an overseas trip his past July for a month. We left my son with his older brother at their Aunt for two days. only. he told me that he vomited and ever since he has been complaining about strange feeling, can’t breath, not eating at all worried that those feeling would come back. We asked him if it was something hurting in his stomach, he said no, intestine, no, constipation, no.
when he is outside playing, no problem, no complains. Also, when me or his mom are not in the house, no complains.
We took him to his doctor, he couldn’t find anything wrong with him (stool all good). waiting on blood work this week.
After I read your article, I felt so much resemblance to my son’s case.
I appreciate your feedback.
Thank you so much for your article.
Rush B

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Rush if there is no medical reason for your son to feel like this, it’s very possible that it’s anxiety. Vomiting is something that can happen with anxiety and when it does, it can cause anxiety about the anxiety. The fear of it happening again can be enough to trigger the symptoms you are describing. Explain the way anxiety works as it is in the article. Here is another article that might help:

>> What to Say to Kids When they Are Anxious

Hopefully this will help your son to find comfort.


My 7 year daughter caught a stomach bug 2 times in one school year and has seemed to fight severe anxiety ever sense. She threw up at her grandparents home out of town so now she thinks this will happen every time and it does!!! When we travel, the anxiety gets worse. When she sees us packing, this gets her tummy and butterflies going so by about 3-4 in the morning, she wakes up throwing up. For the most part she feels better afterwards but sometimes it will continue throughout the day. This fear robs her of joy and peace as well as disrupts any family travel. This anxiety also manifests in her sleep. She may wake up 10 times after falling asleep each time and walks around the house emotional because she frustrated. This anxiety also manifests by her cutting her food intake down sometimes so she doesn’t get to full. She’s smart, hilarious and full of life. I can’t to try these techniques. I want my child back!!

Hey Sigmund

Yes definitely try these for your gorgeous girl. It will really help her to understand how anxiety can be working to make her tummy feel sick. It’s incredible how one experience can leave a mark!


Hi There,

Thank you for your wonderful email. You have given me a lot to think about. My 7 year old daughter is constantly picking at her face and hands, causing herself to bleed on a regular basis. It is difficult because she appears super happy and confident. We ask her if there is anything that she is worried about and she says she is very happy and loves her family and friends. I am really concerned because she has all these marks over herself and i dont want her to hurt herself when she becomes a bit older. What are your thoughts? Thanks

Hey Sigmund

Hi Sarah,
The symptoms you are describing sound like they may have anxiety behind them. There is a condition called dermatillomania (also called compulsive skin picking) which may fit your symptoms. Here is some information about it If there’s anything in there that you’d like more info about, let me know.

It would first be worth a diagnosis with a dermatologist or a therapist to make sure this is what’s happening. Kids with anxiety are often happy, likeable, wonderful kids – they just have a brain that works hard to protect them and is quick to read threat when there isn’t any. Anxiety can come out in all different types of behaviours, and skin picking is one. It is certainly manageable, but she might need a little bit of outside support, such as cognitive behaviour therapy to give her the resources to manage this. The first step though is getting a diagnosis to make sure this is what you’re dealing with. This gives a roadmap to guide the best way to manage it. Try to find a dermatologist, doctor or therapist who has experience with this. Often, once the anxiety is under control, the skin picking will settle. Anything you can do at home though to help to build her skills to manage her anxiety will be great for her. Mindfulness and exercise and two things that have been proven over and over to be really powerful in building the brain against anxiety.

Here is a link to mindfulness exercise for children

An explanation of the research as to how mindfulness works is here

Here is a link that explains a little more about strengthening an anxious brain

I hope this helps. All the best to you and your daughter. She sounds pretty wonderful.


Thank you so much for all of your great information in this article, and for the people commenting in need of help.

My wife and I have run into a terrible period the last six months with our son, who just turned 8. He is an exceptional athlete, has been since birth and has loved every minute of it all since. However at the beginning of this year, after just making a travel baseball 8U team he got Mono, fully diagnosed. He also got strep many times, and small levels in his bloodstream. For first couple of months we didn’t even know he had it. He got hit with a ball in the face and then stopped having interest in going to the baseball practices. We figured it was fear after getting hit so wouldn’t let him quit because of that. He kept saying he was tired and we pushed him to go thinking that was just an excuse. It was silly of us not to realize something else was going on since he didn’t have a normal appetite and this behavior of melting down was very strange for him. He had always been extremely chill and mellow and just the easiest child since birth.

Once diagnosed he was in later stages of the mono so we managed and held him out until he started feeling better. However we kept him involved with the team and eventually he played some games. But he pushed away and began to hate it all it seemed. At that point we quit since we just felt like we couldn’t push him anymore for fear he would hate it for life. We took a couple of months off, and physically he seems finally back to himself in all other areas. We tried to ease him back into baseball with this same team in the summer and have mixed reactions from him. Mostly it seems like a major anxiety issue with him. When he’s able to relax once there, he tends to love it and have fun. but more often than not something spooks him and he then pulls back and “taps out”. We know deep down that he still loves sports which is why we’ve tried to ease him in even though he shows apprehension. But it’s just so hard as a parent to see him struggle and get that lump in his throat…seems he makes up different excuses each time…like pitcher throwing too hard, or feel dizzy, etc. We don’t know if it’s best to let him quit and give him more time to miss and love it again, or to help him cope with the anxiety issues and keep trying. The coaches are amazingly understanding and have had to deal with this for 6 months of start/stopping. Just don’t know if stopping entirely is better to alleviate his pressure, or to help cope. We have read that anxiety often lurks for a while after mono, so hopefully it will pass on it’s own as well and we can get that kid back that we know. It’s all very strange and stressful on our whole family as we struggle with finding and agreeing on the best strategies. Thanks for your input on this all. This article alone is step one in how we can help him understand it.

Hey Sigmund

It’s so difficult watching your kids struggle with something that they used to have no problem wit isn’t it. It sounds as though you are handling this beautifully and giving your son exactly the support he needs. It’s possible that your son might still be resistant because of his experience with getting hit in the face with a ball. Something like that can be enough to knock kids (and adults) off their feet for a while. There won’t always be clear memories, but enough to make the emotion land heavily and act like a warning for similar future experiences.

Sometimes, with an experience which involves intense emotion, there can be a disconnect between the left and the right sides of the brain. It happens in all of us from time to time and it’s nothing to worry about. The right side of the brain is home to our big emotions and the left is the home of the words we use to make sense of that emotion. So, the left side is the very literal part of an experience (this happened that this happened then this happened …) but the right side of the brain is how we felt about what happened.

What can be helpful is to encourage your son to talk about his experience of getting hit in the face. You don’t have to solve anything, just listen. By putting word to his emotions, the big feelings will start to make sense and he will start to be able to see each situation as a new situation, without letting the past colour it. Here is an article that will help to explain this, as well as how to calm and anxious mind

If you suspect anxiety is driving his struggle with, it’s good to encourage him to get right back in there rather than taking too much time away. The risk is that if he stops playing, it will be all the harder to get back into. You don’t want to inadvertently send the message that the only way to feel safe is with avoidance. It’s also imporant that he learns that he is able to cope with things that might feel scary at first. One of the things that helps to overcome anxiety is actually exposure to the situation that triggers the anxiety. It takes time, but it’s about collecting enough evidence to feel safe again.


Hi Karen, let me start by saying your recommendations in this article regarding anxiety worked to perfection! I walked through all of these steps with my son and he immediately connected with it. The day after I walked through it all with him he was back at it with baseball and feeling much more “normal”. He even said things during our talk that really show what is going on in their heads…such as “I thought it was just me”, and those type of things. Immediately normalizing it, explaining/naming it, and teaching them that it’s ok, and that they can actually control it really worked. Amazing how quickly it changed his mindset.

I figured I’d write back because of how well your strategies worked. The interesting thing is our son has always been the easy one, super mellow until the mono triggered the anxiety. Because he’s so mature and mellow you can talk and reason with him, and in this case that was critical. Our 6yr old daughter has been the opposite since she was little. She’s very hyper (since birth), and has enormous meltdown’s and temper tantrums. During them it’s almost like she’s possessed and you cannot reason with her when that switch flips in her. She physically seems like there is this rage in her and her body changes (not sure how to describe it, almost like the incredible Hulk is in her and trying to get out 🙂 ) She’s done it forever and we’ve tried almost everything to no avail. My wife and I are so frustrated with her given this has happened for years, and don’t know what else to do to try and help her. She’s an extremely energetic/hyper child that cannot sit still, and when she’s in her “good mood”, she’s super bubbly and funny. But when that switch flips she’s super aggressive on the other side and just loses it. She mostly acts out like that at home, and is generally very behaved in school according to all of our teachers over the years. When she is in her comfort zone at home is when it manifests most often. She’ll say nasty things to us during her fits and acts almost like she makes the rules. Hopefully this gives you an idea of her meltdowns.

She also has had anxiety/clinginess her whole life and not sure they are related. She was the one that the school had to call in preschool the first month because she “missed mommy”…she is extremely athletic but wouldn’t leave our side to go on the soccer field with the rest of the girls. Again, I’m not sure if they are related or not but she needs quite a bit of help and if I can find a way to get through to her like my son it may change her/our lives enormously. It’s occupied 99% of our family stress the last 5 years or so. Thanks for reading and for all of your help to everyone.

Hey Sigmund

Hi Brian – I’m so pleased the article was helpful for your son. In relation to your daughter, it’s quite common for anxiety to play out as aggression, so this might be something to think about. Here is an article that explains all about that as well as some strategies to try if you think this might be what’s going on. If you’re still worried, it might be worth getting an assessment from a doctor or a psychologist, just to make sure there’s nothing else going on. With kids there is always a good reason behind their behaviour – it’s just a matter of finding the reason and the right strategies to manage it. I hope this helps.


Thanks Karen, don’t think there was any article linked in your reply as you suggested. Also, our son has reverted back a bit unfortunately so will have to keep working with him. So sad to see him like this and avoiding organized sports after being such a standout since t-ball. May just be too young to be in a serious travel baseball league as it’s not as “fun” as the town rec teams. Thanks!

Hey Sigmund

Oh no I can see I left out the link. Here it is I’m sorry to hear that your son has reverted back a little. Anxiety can do this – sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back. The thing to keep in mind is that you’re rewiring an anxious brain to be a little less overprotective. This can take a while but keep working with him. Getting mentally stronger is like getting physically stronger – it takes constant, steady practice over time to get there. Keep encouraging him to try brave things. The key is getting the balance right – you don’t want to push him too far to do things that feel so far outside his comfort zone, but you don’t want him to stay too safe either and to think that the only to feel okay is to avoid new things. You sound very tuned in to what he needs, which is wonderful, so trust your instinct on that one.


I have a 6 year old daughter who is outwardly confident, social and well liked by others. She talks a lot and struggles to focus at times.

Every morning I struggle with getting her to school as she mucks around and doesn’t do what she should. We both get frustrated and it generally ends up with me yelling. It is making us both miserable. She said she is worried about school and not having friends (we moved towns 3 months ago) but at the end of the day she is happy and doesn’t want to leave. She also wants me to come in to class and drop her off every day and is still frequently in tears when I go. (She has done this since she started school not just since we moved). She is also very anxious about us going and leaving her with other people and we are finding it exhausting. I also have a 2 year old. Can you give any advice? Thank you

Hey Sigmund

Your daughter’s experience makes a lot of sense. Anxiety doesn’t always have a clear reason for being there and anxious kids are often well-liked kids with big open hearts. They have a brain that is supersensitive to threat, even if there is nothing at all to be worried about. It’s a strong, healthy brain but it works a little too hard to protect them. It can be so exhausting for you both though can’t it. Here are some articles that will hopefully help:

>> Dealing With School Anxiety – Powerful Things That Parents Can Do
>> How to Empower Your Child to Deal With School Anxiety
>> 18 Important Things Kids With Anxiety Need to Know
>> What to Say to Children When They Are Anxious
>> Mindfulness For Children

Your daughter is still getting used to how the world works and learning to trust that she’ll be okay in it. There’s so much to learn at her age. It’s possible that when she thinks about you leaving, either at school drop-off, or when you leave her with someone else, she is worried about something happening to you. This is a really common fear at this age and kids generally grow out of it in time (though I understand how distressing it can be in the meantime). She may grow out of it or she may always be a little vulnerable to anxiety but if she is, there are certainly ways for her to manage it so that it doesn’t get in her way. The articles will hopefully give you some strategies to try that will make a difference. I have included the mindfulness one because there is a ton of research showing that mindfulness can change the structure of the brains in ways that strengthen it against anxiety. If you can find a mindfulness exercise that works for her, keep at it. It’s such a great thing for them to have because of the way it strengthens them.

Carleen Thomson

I have just seen your reply – thank you. I will look at the articles as we are still struggling. We have however picked up that she has a specific learning disability with reading and are starting lessons with Speld so I am hoping this may help her too.

Karen Borg

Hi Carleen, I had to reply as I had the same situation with the same aged kids, (both daughters) after a move. I picked up a book called “How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listens so Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish . I followed their scenario of when the young child doesn’t want to go to school, daycare etc.. seems clingy, etc. When she started to fuss, I said, “you don’t want to go to school”, she nodded, I said, “becaue you will miss mommy””. She nodded, stopped crying, and got her sweater on and off we went. No more fussing around. I know it sounds too good to be true, but I found that my kids needed to be heard and acknowledged, which made a huge difference. There is another book by the same author called, “Siblings Without Rivalry” which is great for when they get into it with each other. With the help from this book, I can say that they are still good friends. Even now they are 19 and 20 and the same holds. Rather than explaining and telling, I listen and acknowledge and all are happier.

Carleen Thomson

Thank you Karen, the first book you recommended sounds great and I do think you are right that she feels better when I hear and acknowledge her feelings. I will see if I can find it. 🙂


Hi, thank you for the article, very helpful! One question though, what do you do when your child is resistant to talking about their feeling and is not interested in trying strategies, namely deep breaths?

Hey Sigmund

Ahhh – this is when you might need to get creative. You might have to go first when it comes to talking about your feelings. The incidental chats are often the best – in the car, while you are cooking, just before bed. Feed back what you see, ‘I notice that when we get close to school … This sort of thing happens to me sometimes too. For me it feels … What does it feel like for you?’ If it is something new, it might feel awkward or clumsy, so keep modelling and wait for your child to be curious enough.


I needed to read this so bad. My husband and I have a 9 year old son who has been very emotional in the last few months. At night he still doesn’t lay down by himself to go to sleep because he is so scared. If we make him go to his room without us he starts crying. Then it becones a battle because he works himself up to the point he almost gets sick. He also has been going through this “I miss you” phase. We will be sitting in the living room, or like today driving him to school, and he starts crying saying he misses us. I’m a stay at home mom (almost a year now) and try my hardest to always be present with him, ask him questions, talk about his day, his homework, his friends. We play together everyday and/or walk together around our subdivision most days just spending time together. My husband tries to play with him but works late and exhausted when he gets home but he always tries. I feel we might even put extra attention on him because we had a daughter almost a year ago. I thought maybe it was related to that but he only started doing this a few months ago. I’ve asked if something is going on at school and he says no, everyday we talk about recess and he tells me all the friends he played with, and there are neighborhood kids that come over and play basketball.

Last night my husband and I talked about him possibly having anxiety but didn’t know how to approach it. After reading this is have a start.

Thank you so much. I just want the best for him and it breaks my heart to see him so sad. I’m his mom and supposed to protect him from the world but feel like I’m failing. This is giving me some resources to help though.

Hey Sigmund

Gosh Ellie you are NOT failing! You are giving your son everything he needs. Sometimes they might get skittled by things but those things so often have absolutely nothing to do with the parents we are. You are loving, attentive and responsive, but that won’t change life throwing up curve balls sometimes. Here is an article that might help with the problems going to sleep – try the stepladder This is an opportunity for your little man to learn strategies and skills that will introduce him to his own resilience and courage – it’s there, in him, the task now is to teach him how to uncover it. It sounds as though he’s in wonderful hands.


WOW! your website and anxiety in children article showed up on my facebook feed days after a very scary meltdown from my 10 y/o son. He has been in counseling for anxiety for 6 months. Seeing the various articles has been like an ah ha moment for our family. Everything is written in a way it just really made us understand. We are now seeing a hope in helping him get control of his meltdowns. We practicing breathing techniques, made a mindful jar and talk openly about what he feels like, so we all understand his struggle. He has told us about the names he is called at school and how he has been made to feel abnormal by children and adults at school. I wish our educators had more training in handling children with anxiety. Our experience is they consider the actions as naughty, trouble makers, so they embarrass and punish, compounding the anxiety. Do you have info that can be shared with people in the education field? I am so grateful I found you on facebook! I am gaining hope that I can actually be the mom my little boy needs to get him through this “speedbump” in his life.

Hey Sigmund

Susan I’m grateful that you found me here too! It sounds as though you are giving your little man exactly what he needs from you. Teachers play such a big role don’t they. The ones who understand about anxiety, or who are open to understanding it are wonderful and make such a huge difference. Here are a couple of articles that might help, but this one here is an important one to help understand the symptoms of anxiety. It can help for people to understand that it has a physiological basis.
>> Anxious Kids at School – How to Help Them Soar
>> Dealing With School Anxiety – Powerful Things That Adults Can Do

These are probably the best ones in terms of school, but all of the anxiety articles are on this link


My 10 year old has anxiety. Not social anxiety, but a fear of “what if”. For example: If she can’t find her younger sister at school, she will begin to panic and cry. She recently told me that at night, she feels like someone is going to break into our house and kidnap her. My daughter has also been diagnosed with Trichotillomania. Although she says she doesn’t realize she’s pulling, I notice it’s worse when she’s feeling frustrated about homework, or mad about a negative consequence of her actions. In spite of these issues, she is smart, outgoing, has many friends, and is involved in sports and piano. I just don’t want her to live in fear. Any suggestions, tips, resources you can give for dealing with these issues?

Hey Sigmund

The key really is teaching your daughter to stay in the present moment, and at the same time reinforcing her capacity to cope with anything that might happen. It’s important not to avoid the things she is bothered by because the more she avoids situations she is worried about, the more it will reinforce to her that the only way to feel better is to avoid the things she is worried about.

If you feel that the problem is getting too much in the way, and bigger than can be dealt with at home, your daughter might need outside support, either through a school counsellor or a therapist who is used to dealing with kids and anxiety.

You can also do some really important things at home that will make a difference. The strategies explained in this article are powerful, particularly explaining where the anxiety is coming from. Mindfulness has been shown in a lot of research to have great capacity to ease the symptoms of anxiety. Here are some ways to do that Aside from this, getting enough sleep is critical and exercise also builds up the neurochemicals in the brain to help deal with anxiety. All of the anxiety articles are on this link Hopefully there will be something here that will help bring comfort to your daughter.


We use Jeddy’s Blend in our house. It is natural and works amazing. I no longer have to use medication and my daughter with Asperger’s uses it as well. Brings me right out of an anxiety attack while breathing it in.


This is just what we are going through with my 11 year old son.
Luckily (sort of) my daughter with autism also has been through this, and with cbt at camhs, we have come through it.
She was told, just like you have, why it happens, and given ways to combat it.. So after a year off school. She has now been everyday fir the last 6 months.
My son happened to come to an appointment with us and the lovely lady, spoke to him about it.
Fingers crossed he will beach to school soon. Reading this has Re informed me again. Thank you. X


I love your article! I plan on using it with my daughter. It’s very detailed yet simply put together for the little minds.


I’m 23 and have suffered from anxiety as long as I can remember. I’ve learned several different tricks about helping my attacks, but this article is amazing! It explained anxiety better than any therapist or doctor has to me before. Its amazing how understand why something happens helps it not seem so scary anymore.
I have a 2 year old that has recently started acting very afraid of things recently. It reminds me of who I felt when I was younger. Afraid to be alone, not wanting to go in different rooms by myself. She tells me she is afraid of her bed and doors and windows. I was like that younger too. Always afraid someone or something was going to get me and I still often have this fear. How can I help her this young? She speaks really well for her age, but I don’t think she’s old enough to understand all of this. How can I help her with her being so young?


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Our children and teens can feel anxious, and do brave - but they don’t need to do it all at once. They can happen in tiny brave steps, one after the other. 

Start by encouraging them to notice the difference. Some things that feel scary will be best avoided - dark alleys, snakes, walking alone at night. Sometimes though, those things that feel scary will be growthful and important - exams, school, trying something new, approaching a challenge, taking a safe risk, separating from you when there is another loving adult who will take care of them. These things are scary, but safe. For sure, they might come with failure, or humiliation, or they might not work out as planned, but they are safe. 

Part of living bravely is having the confidence that even if my ‘what if’ happens, I’ll be okay. I can take safe risks, because whatever happens, I’ll be okay. I can do hard things, because whatever happens I’ll be okay. And we know they will be. Actually they’ll be better than okay because most times, enough times, they’ll shine.♥️
When children are in big feelings - big anxiety, big anger, big sadness - it will be really difficult for them to bring themselves back to calm without us. This is because the part of the brain that can calm big feelings isn’t quite built yet. Until it is, they’ll be looking to us for a hand. Even as adults with fully developed brains, we sometimes need the loving presence of our special person or people to help us through those big times. 

When children are in big feelings it’s less about what you do and more about who you are. They are looking for an anchor - a strong, steady presence to help bring their their world back to steady. When you calm your breathing, it will calm your nervous and let you guide theirs back to calm. 

This is NOT rewarding big behaviour. In fact, it’s doing the opposite. The brain learns from experience, so the more we guide them back to calm, the more they develop the capacity to do it on their own.♥️
Brains love keeping us alive. They adore it actually. Their most important job is to keep us safe. This is above behaviour, relationships, and learning - except as these relate to safety. 

Safety isn’t about what is actually safe, but about what the brain perceives. Unless a brain feels safe and loved (connected through relationship, welcome in the space), it won’t be as able to learn, plan, regulate, make deliberate decisions, think through consequences.

Young brains (all brains actually) feel safest when they feel connected to, and cared about by, their important adults.  This means that for us to have any influence on our kids and teens, we first need to make sure they feel safe and connected to us. 

This goes for any adult who wants to lead, guide or teach a young person - parents, teachers, grandparents, coaches. Children or teens can only learn from us if they feel connected to us. They’re no different to us. If we feel as though someone is angry or indifferent with us we’re more focused on that, and what needs to happen to avoid humiliation or judgement, or how to feel loved and connected again, than anything else. 

We won’t have influence if we don’t have connection. Connection let’s us do our job - whether that’s the job of parenting, teaching - anything. It helps the brain feel safe, so it will then be free to learn.♥️
#parenting #parentingforward #parentingtips #mindfulparenting #neurosequentialmodel
Children are born whole and with the will to do good, but none of us are born knowing what to do or how to do when things feel big. That comes with time, lots of practice, and the loving leadership of adults who have been there before.

It can be tempting to hurry their development, or measure our own parenting by how well our children behave but development  just doesn’t work this way. Like all good things, it takes time to be able to manage big feelings or unmet needs enough so they don’t inflame big behaviour. Even as adults we won’t always act in adorable ways. (Oh don’t I know it!)

Learning how to manage big feelings without sliding into big behaviour is like anything hard we or our children learn - how to play tennis, play the guitar, read, cross the road. None of these are learned through punishment or harsh consequences. They’re learned with practice and the steady guidance of adults who ‘do with’ and take the time to show us how. The time it takes and the bumps along the way are no reflection on the adults doing the teaching, or the children doing the learning, but a reflection on the magnitude of the challenge. It’s big!

The more we take it personally when our children don’t behave as we (or the world) would like, the more likely we’ll move into shame and judgement (of them and ourselves). Ultimately this will impact our capacity to actually give them what they need, which is patience, trust in our leadership our capacity to guide them, and our strong loving presence.♥️
#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting
When we punish, or do anything that drives emotional separation (shame) or physical separation from us, it teaches our children to avoid us, or please us. It teaches them that failure, falling short, or making a mistake is shameful. It doesn’t teach them anything about what to do instead, or how to learn, or how to deal with things not going to plan.

Rather than, ‘What punishment do they need to do better?’ try, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ What they need - what we all need - is someone who is calm, strong, loving, and who can handle them enough to stay when them and guide them through the tough stuff. When we focus on the relationship, it opens the way for us to guide behaviour.♥

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