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

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.

A Book for Kids About Anxiety …

‘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. (See here for the trailer.)




Andy Nicholson

I have an 8 year old daughter just lost her grandmother 5months ago, quite sudden. Now just coming to a point where she can be stable then emotional and at the moment all very anxious getting all the classic symptoms. Will try some of your suggestions many thanks.

Hey Sigmund

You’re very welcome. I’m sorry that your daughter is going through this. It’s not an unusual reaction given the circumstances, but I know that doesn’t make it any easier – for you or for her. I hope the suggestions in the article are able to help her.


Going through this with our pre-primary aged child. The moment the ‘bell’ goes, there are tears and difficulty separating . Both my husband and I share the drop off and we both see the same reaction. Sometime the silence of the distress is so intense, our child is unable to speak and has a racing heart. It is obvious how emotional this is. We have tried all of the different ways listed to help , its not really changing things, but we will continue. The class teacher has said she believes it is ‘Learnt Behavior’ and not anxiety, not that we need to have a name for this, just support, unfortunately our child has already been told by the teacher ‘that’s enough’ and we have been told there could be teasing in the future if it continues! Teacher has said she has told our child that ‘she has to come to school as mummy will get in trouble if she doesn’t and that she would not want mummy to get onto trouble’, as if this was beneficial, we feel its so negative especially as our child has not said this is about ‘not going to school’ We will continue to support our child through the many strategy’s around, and believe in time there will be improvement. I have questioned myself many times if this is happening because of our, something we have done wrong, our family environment, I get over-stressed, busy, and reactive to situations and can have my our ‘melt downs’ I shout, I punish and can feel like a terrible mother. My children do reassure me otherwise, they love me/us but unfortunately that is the way I’m wired due to many reasons, but I would say this does contribute and we are working through this so please do not judge, its hard to think that some familys float along with peace and calm all the time. Are children are good kids, they are happy, and have stability and are loved and praised but for myself, when your child experiences a difficulty I feel guilt, I feel judged, I feel defensive, even though my rational draws me back to balance, raising children for me has been really difficult, thank goodness for the golden times they give, the support of others and these articles

Hey Sigmund

It sounds as though your daughter is having a tough time at the moment. What she is experiencing sounds like school anxiety. It’s really common and has absolutely nothing to do with your parenting. I promise you! There is no such thing as a perfect parent. I also get stressed, and reactive and have my meltdowns as a mother. None of us are perfect but we’re all doing our best. I can tell that you also are and it sounds as though you are doing a pretty great job of it. Listen to your children when they tell you that – they’re the only ones who matter.
As for your daughter, here is an article that will hopefully help you and her to get on top of what’s happening Her teacher isn’t helping things at all and in fact, is likely to be making things worse. Please pass the article on to her. There are a lot of great teachers, but anxiety is difficult to understand. Hopefully it will help her to realise that it is certainly not a learned behaviour. You are absolutely right – what your daughter needs is support. She will get through this, but the teacher has to stop telling her things like ‘that’s enough’. You’re daughter isn’t doing what she’s doing because of bad behaviour. The article will explain what’s going on, and if you can explain it to her it will really help her. It also explains why the teachers response is the wrong one.
In the meantime, be kind to yourself. It isn’t easy dealing with anxiety and watching someone you love so much going through it. You’re doing a great job – your children a great happy kids. It sounds like you give them a lot of love and support. Don’t worry about the other stuff you get wrong sometimes – we all do that. It just means you’re human. Our kids need to see that we’re not perfect so they have permission to also not be perfect. My very best wishes to you and your family, and I hope the article about school anxiety is able to help to bring some comfort to your daughter.


I have a hard time talking to my 7th grade daughter like this. I am usually more like, “get over it”, “toughen up”, “deal with it”, “this is life”, “not this again”, etc. I try and tell her to “get outside of your head” as in, stop focusing on how you feel and instead focus on things around you to distract yourself and be mentally strong. Her anxieties usually have to do with her stomach and fear of puking, which never even happens. But she wastes hours worrying about it, crying, etc. Very frustrating. I am aware that I’m not using the best approach, which is why I read your article for more helpful tips…so I’ll think about this and try something else next time. Thanks.

Hey Sigmund

It can be really difficult to understand anxiety when you’re outside of it – you’re not alone there. I understand that it can be frustrating. Hopefully this will help.


I grew up with pretty significant anxiety, lots of missed school days and pretty miserable most of the time (6th grade on). It took me until I was in college to diagnose myself. Weird, but I just didn’t know how to describe my thoughts. I just thought I was going crazy. I still have it and a few of my kids struggle as well. At least there are more resources like this article out there. Therapy is a good option, but eating well (low sugar), drinking lots of fluids and exercise help me. And guidance like in the article helps me with my kids.

Elise Wolfe

I didn’t get the sort of parenting in this article, so i still experience sometimes scary overreactions to feelings as an adult. I am going to save this article to read the next time I get stressed out about something (and I’ll see if I’m able to play both parts).

Hey Sigmund

Yes – use these words as the anchor to help you next time you are feeling anxious. Keep the article to refer to, and also have a phrase or a sentence that you can call on in the midst of scary feelings to calm you. The more you are able to do this, the more automatically and easily you will be able to access the thought and find calm.

Sylvia Britton

The article is incredible. I’m translating it into an adult situation (me) and find many helpful pointers. Pills are not the answer – I have problems with being alone (75 years old) and my anxiety gets worse then. I really have nothing to fear, but it’s there anyway. Wish I would have had this information years ago – don’t know when the anxiety started, but after heart surgery it got much worse. This last bout of stent placement really got to me. The last couple of days haven’t alleviated it completely, but it’s getting better. Hope I’ll be over this “edition” pretty soon. Thanks again for your wonderful advice. Wish every parent could see this – I’ll bet a lot of the “fight” would be taken out of the “flight or fight”.


My 5 year old has been refusing to stay alone for even a minute-in broad daylight or night.ahe needs the presence of an adult even in her own room or when she goes to the toilet. This is a 2 month old development and we have no idea how to deal with it. She doesn’t give any reason and refuses to go for extra curricular classes as we won’t be in the room with her. Should we wait it out or take her to a specialist? Also could you recommend any reading? I am unable to find any relevant reading online.

Tina Fitzpatrick

Thank you. I have two very little grandchildren and I have printed out this article so I can reference it. Anxiety is such a normal feeling and this article gives me more tools in my toolbox.


I really need some advise on dealing with daughter who has just turned 7yrs.. My mum died very suddenly 5months ago she was only 63yr and we were exceptionally close and saw her almost every day, my daughter has always been excellent going into school, but since losing her nanny she has been horrendous…I did seek professional help During August to help her when she went back to school but it hasn’t worked at all…she has separation anxiety, and is terrified that when I leave her at school that I will not be there to collect her, she thinks if she isn’t with me that I will also die….So very sad….Once I leave her or shall I say once she has been pulled off me, they say she settles very quickly and has a good day and she always comes out smiling…it’s just the morning separation ..I have tried worry dolls, books, and reward charts but nothing seems to work…any advise would be hugely appreciated… Many thanks Carla

Hey Sigmund

This sounds distressing for both of you. It’s really understandable that your daughter worries that something will happen to you when she’s not with you, given what has happened to your mum. I can hear how much you both miss her. Your daughter is comparing you to her nanny, so one of the things to do is to point out the differences. She needs to know why she should believe that the same thing that happened to her nanny, won’t happen to you – so give her as many as you can.

Also, she needs to know that you get it, so name what you see and let her know that you completely understand, without trying to change what she’s feeling. The feelings are bubbling around inside her (grief, confusion, fear ???), and it’s likely that it’s difficult for her to name them, which can feel really scary. So, when she is upset, name what you see to help her to make sense of them, ‘It sounds as though you’re worried/ scared/ confused/ that … I understand that. We loved nanny so much and we miss her so much. I miss her every day and I know you do too. You know there are lots of things that are different about Mummy …’ And then explain the differences. Name what she’s feeling and receive it without trying to change it, but tell her how you’re different to your mum.

There’s a book called ‘The Invisible String’ by Patricia Karst. The idea is that we are connected by an invisible string to everyone we love and it’s never ever broken, even when people die. It’s a lovely concept and it might be a comforting one for her.

Finally, something else to try is to copy a photo of you and a photo of your daughter onto a piece of paper. Have the photos touching then cut the paper where the photos join, and fold each piece to keep it safe. Give the half with your photo to her to take to school, and you take the photo of her – as your protection. At night, join the photos back together where she can see them – maybe on the fridge or on her mirror.

Your daughter has been through a recent trauma in losing her nanny and will need time to make sense of it enough to feel safe and trust that the same thing won’t happen to you. I know how hard it must be to watch her going through this, especially when you’re working your way through your own grief. I wish things could be different for both of you – it sounds as though you, your daughter and your mum had a beautiful relationship. Your daughter will get through this. She’s working on rebuilding her feelings of safety in the world, and that takes time. You sound as though you are doing a wonderful job of supporting her through it.


Thank you so very very much, you have given me some great advise which I will put into action today. It’s so very comforting to have someone out there who can offer advise, what an amazing thing you do..
Thank you…Carla

Amanda s.

My 6 yr old son has some anger, aggression and i beleive anxiety issues,where he has a hard time expressing his feelings and instead of using words gets physical and yells/screams/throws things and even uses bad words. He doesnt know why he does it and my husband and i dont know what to do. Any help would be appreciative.

Hey Sigmund

It’s really confusing for little people when they have these overwhelming (though very normal) feelings and they don’t know what to do with them or where they come from. Helping your son to understand why he feels the way he does will be really helpful in empowering him to deal with his angry feelings. Here is an article that explains it in child friendly terms, and also gives practical ways to deal with anger Hopefully it will help your son to understand why he feels the way he does and help him to find healthier ways to deal with his angry feelings.


wow. this is so extremely helpful. now where can i order the pocket-sized laminated version?

thanks for your thoughtful advice.


We’ve been dealing with panic attacks since my daughter was in first grade! This is SO helpful. She’s old enough now to read it with me. Thank you!


Such an interesting article, thanks! My son is nearly eleven and has recently started shaking out his arm or tossing his head. It’s an involuntary action, but I suspect it’s linked to both hormonal changes and anxiety. I will try the tips you’ve given at such times to see if it will help.

Hey Sigmund

You’re very welcome. I hope the information is able to help your son. It might also be worth having a chat to a doctor to make sure there’s nothing else that’s causing the involuntary actions. Always best to be sure.


Yes we have had a chat with a doctor, who thought he would grow out of it. Thanks so much for taking the time to reply!


Excellent article. My 5 year old has anxiety attacks about her schoolbus not dropping her back home.. and getting her to go to school is a battle each morning!! I will definitely try out some of this strategies to soothe her – I guess the most important is for me to not lose my patience when she is having an attack

Hey Sigmund

Thank you. And yes, the more patient you can be, the easier and quicker your daughter will move through an attack. Patience doesn’t always come easy though – I get that! – so don’t be hard on yourself if it’s near impossible to find some mornings.

Meghan W.

Hi! My mom sent me this article on facebook. I just have to say thank you!! I’m a mom to one vibrant 6 year old little girl. Like me, she struggles with anxiety. Thank you for some really great ideas to help her work through her worries. She’s usually really happy, but lately, it’s like she just works herself up so much and can’t get out of the massive hole that worry has dug in her heart. Makes me really sad for her and I feel like a lot of it is my fault. I still struggle with my depression and anxiety. I can’t help but feel like I passed along my worst traits! I know it’s not true. But, again, thank you for some really great ways to help my sweet girl.

Hey Sigmund

I can hear your guilt in relation to your daughter’s anxiety, but you need to know that it is absolutely not your fault or a result of anything you have done, nor will any of it matter to the woman she grows up to be. What you teach her and show her will be more powerful than anything you genetically pass down to her. The insight and wisdom you’ve gained from living with anxiety means that you’ll be a wonderful support for her.

Malia Huffman

This is fabulously written for the parent – I would love some tips for the educator. We are seeing many more students in school with anxiety, or not coming to school due to anxiety. While I felt I could use and say all the article talked about as a parent, with a student, some of those things would not be appropriate. Sometimes we can’t let them do anything they think of, there do have to be some limitations. I would be very interested in similar info for school counselors, teachers and administrators! Thank you for this very well-written and thoughtful piece!

Hey Sigmund

You’re very welcome. I absolutely agree that there is a greater need for more information and support for teachers in relation to anxiety in children. You can make such a huge difference. Something that seems to be really helpful for children is helping them to understand where their anxiety comes from. Here is an article that explains it in a child-friendly way:
Anxiety in Kids: How to Build Them and Protect Them for Life


This method is also highly applicable to women in labour. These reassuring words can help many women through the rise and fall of a contraction, a partner, doula or midwife that can stay by their side and offer reassurances will empower them on their journey.
And yes, it’s brilliant on children having anxiety attacks too. Thanks for sharing.


Married 40+ years, mother of 3, school teacher to hundreds, and I have never forgotten my Lamaze breathing exercises. That slow, deep breathing gets me through the rough spots in my days. I never actively taught it to my own children, but recently realized that, as adults now, they also do deep breathing in stressful situations.

Hey Sigmund

Yes – breathing is so powerful. Sometimes it’s the simple things that make the difference. Thank you for sharing your experience of this.


Not bad, Dr. Young. Not bad at all. Good stuff to hand to the anxious mothers of anxious children. Always looking for materials than can be shared with parents.


Hey andrew, you sound a little patronizing. why assume it’s only for mothers? I immediately shared it with my husband and we both loved it. Anxiety doesn’t know gender. Perhaps you ought to reframe the way you are thinking about both anxiety and gender my friend.


Great article. Great read. My daughter is 5 and in Prep and loves school. Always has a great day BUT… In the morning as soon as the bell goes and it’s time for me to leave she gets anxious. Hesitates about letting me leave. I’ve tried the staying with her for a bit approach. Stern approach. I’ve threatened. Ive over smothered her with its ok sweetheart. Positive positive. 9 months later I’m still in the same boat with her. Any suggestions would be great. Today I’ve just drawn up a chart. For everyday she does not run out of the classroom and cracks it she will receive a stamp. Once she has five stamps she gets to choose a prize from the box. I’m hoping this works. Im running out of options. I would appreciate any feed back and suggestions. Thanks in advance

Hey Sigmund

I really understand how difficult this is for you and for your daughter. It’s something I have struggled with myself in the past.

The chart is a really good idea and is certainly worth a shot. If it falls down, it may be because for your daughter, her fear of being separated from you (or that something might happen to you while she’s not with you) will be bigger than the reward. Remember that for her, she’s not doing this to cause trouble, she’s genuinely scared. It’s age appropriate and not unusual for her age, but I understand that it makes drop-offs distressing for both of you. There is a way to strengthen up the chart strategy, which I’ll explain.

The problem is that when she’s overwhelmed with fear, she’s not able to find calm because the logical part of her brain has been overtaken by the instinctive, feeling part. One way to get them back working together is to ‘catch’ her feelings. She needs to know that you get it, and one of the problems with saying ‘it’s okay’ (which I’ve also done myself – we all do!) is that in her mind she’s going, ‘No! It’s not ok! If you’re saying it’s ok it’s because you don’t get it. Something might happen to you if I’m not with you.’ I’m not saying the messages will sound exactly like this – we can only speculate, but it’s likely that they’ll be something along those lines, which is why saying ‘it’s ok’ might not always work the way we think it will.

One thing to try is to help her make sense of what she’s feeling, and you can do this by naming what you see and letting her know that you understand, without needing to change it. This will help to re-engage the logical, thinking left part of her brain which will in time help her to make her own sense of her anxiety and calm herself down. It will also help her to see that you get it, which will also help her to find calm. It’s important that she sees that you’re confident about leaving her, but it’s really powerful if she can see that you understand the issues through her eyes and that you’re still confident. To do this, name what you see and let her know that you understand, without trying to change her mind about what she’s feeling. So it might look something like: ‘You get sad when we have to say goodbye don’t you. I understand that. Sometimes I get sad when we have to say goodbye too. I can’t wait to hear about your day when I see you this afternoon.’ or, ‘You get worried when it’s time for me to go don’t you. I get that. I’ll be safe and sound all day, just like you will be. When I pick you up, let’s tell each other two things about our days. Okay?’ It can be hard to just acknowledge what they’re feeling without wanting to try to change it or fix it. I find when I do this I almost have to hold my breath to stop from saying more – as parents we’re generally driven to ‘do’ something to help our kids feel better, but it’s a powerful thing for them to hear that you can see and understand what they’re going through without needing them to feel differently. The ‘differently’ will come when the thinking part of their brain re-engages with the emotional part, which will happen as you help her to name what she’s feeling. I hope this helps and is able to bring some comfort to you and your daughter.

Alice, Sophomore at 68

Perhaps you might give her a photo of the two of you together, or other kinds of articles that might comfort her. All we all want….is to be heard and validated.

Stacy Marie

I love the article, and would love one directed more at separation anxiety. The separation anxiety for preschool for my 3 1/2 year old is overwhelming. She starts tears just hearing that she has preschool the next day. Any tips? Would purely waiting for her to get older help the situation or does working through it at this young age help in the long run? Thanks in advance for any thoughts or direction.

Hey Sigmund

This is such a common issue and is not at all unusual at this age. It’s quite age appropriate for pre-schoolers to be anxious about leaving their parents, but it’s still hard to watch them go through it isn’t it. There will be a post on this in the next few weeks – hopefully that will help.

Bryan Biery

This is a splendid article. The specific “how to’s” are a splendid and memorable way to empower the “child” AND the anxious supporter, whoever they might be.
Is this training incorporated into our foster, foster surrogate, hospice, hospital Auxillary, medical, seminaries, schools and educators? If not, it should be!
Thank you very much for making this available to the general public!


I enjoyed reading this article and I wish I had someone to know what to do when I would experience these when I was a little boy. VERY GOOD READ AND RECOMMEND EVERYONE TO READ!!

Mahal Hudson

Anyone working with children and youth with intellectual disability, this article is still spot on. So much to learn that we, caregivers, should take wisdom and apply the learning. This is a lifesaver. I will definitely use it in my upcoming leadership workshops.

Thanks for posting this.


my girlfriend sent this to me after she read a facebook page of my son feeling butterflies in his tummy but not understanding that feeling. Thank you for this!! Thank you to my friend!!


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Melbourne, Adelaide … Will you join us? 

The @resilientkidsconference is coming to Melbourne (15 July) and Adelaide (2 September), and we’d love you to join us.

We’ve had a phenomenal response to this conference. Parents and carers are telling us that they’re walking away feeling even more confident, with strategies and information they can use straight away. That’s what this conference is all about. 

We know taking care of the young people in our lives is up there with the most important thing we can do. Why shouldn’t there be a conference for parents and carers?!

I’ll be joining with @maggiedentauthor,, and @drjustincoulson. We’ve got you covered! And we’re there for the day, with you. 

For tickets or more info, search ‘Resilient Kids Conference’ on Google, or go to this link
We have to change the way we talk about anxiety. If we talk about it as a disorder, this is how it feels.

Yes anxiety can be so crushing, and yes it can intrude into every part of their everyday. But the more we talk about anxiety as a disorder, the more we drive ‘anxiety about the anxiety’. Even for big anxiety, there is nothing to be served in talking about it as a disorder. 

There is another option. We change the face of it - from an intruder or deficiency, to an ally. We change the story - from ‘There’s something wrong with me’ to, ‘I’m doing something hard.’ I’ve seen the difference this makes, over and over.

This doesn’t mean we ignore anxiety. Actually we do the opposite. We acknowledge it. We explain it for what it is: the healthy, powerful response of a magnificent brain that is doing exactly what brains are meant to do - protect us. This is why I wrote Hey Warrior.

What we focus on is what becomes powerful. If we focus on the anxiety, it will big itself up to unbearable.

What we need to do is focus on both sides - the anxiety and the brave. Anxiety, courage, strength - they all exist together. 

Anxiety isn’t the absence of brave, it’s the calling of brave. It’s there because you’re about to do something hard, brave, meaningful - not because there’s something wrong with you.

First, acknowledge the anxiety. Without this validation, anxiety will continue to do its job and prepare the body for fight or flight, and drive big feelings to recruit the safety of another human.

Then, we speak to the brave. We know it’s there, so we usher it into the light:

‘Yes I know this is big. It’s hard [being away from the people you love] isn’t it. And I know you can do this. We can do hard things can’t we.

You are one of the bravest, strongest people I know. Being brave feels scary and hard sometimes doesn’t it. It feels like brave isn’t there, but it’s always there. Always. And you know what else I know? It gets easier every time. I’ve know this because I’ve seen you do hard things, and because I’ve felt like this too, so many times. I know that you and me, even when we feel anxious, we can do brave. It’s always in you. I know that for certain.’♥️
Our job as parents isn’t to remove their distress around boundaries, but to give them the experiences to recognise they can handle boundaries - holding theirs and respecting the boundaries others. 

Every time we hold a boundary, we are giving our kids the precious opportunity to learn how to hold their own.

If we don’t have boundaries, the risk is that our children won’t either. We can talk all we want about the importance of boundaries, but if we don’t show them, how can they learn? Inadvertently, by avoiding boundary collisions with them, we are teaching them to avoid conflict at all costs. 

In practice, this might look like learning to put themselves, their needs, and their feelings away for the sake of peace. Alternatively, they might feel the need to control other people and situations even more. If they haven’t had the experience of surviving a collision of needs or wants, and feeling loved and accepted through that, conflicting needs will feel scary and intolerable.

Similarly, if we hold our boundaries too harshly and meet their boundary collisions with shame, yelling, punishment or harsh consequences, this is how we’re teaching them to respond to disagreement, or diverse needs and wants. We’re teaching them to yell, fight dirty, punish, or overbear those who disagree. 

They might also go the other way. If boundaries are associated with feeling shamed, lonely, ‘bad’, they might instead surrender boundaries and again put themselves away to preserve the relationship and the comfort of others. This is because any boundary they hold might feel too much, too cruel, or too rejecting, so ‘no boundary’ will be the safest option. 

If we want our children to hold their boundaries respectfully and kindly, and with strength, we will have to go first.

It’s easy to think there are only two options. Either:
- We focus on the boundary at the expense of the relationship and staying connected to them.
- We focus on the connection at the expense of the boundary. 

But there is a third option, and that is to do both - at the same time. We hold the boundary, while at the same time we attend to the relationship. We hold the boundary, but with warmth.♥️
Sometimes finding the right words is hard. When their words are angry and out of control, it’s because that’s how they feel. 

Eventually we want to grow them into people who can feel all their feelings and lasso them into words that won’t break people, but this will take time.

In the meantime, they’ll need us to model the words and hold the boundaries firmly and lovingly. This might sound like:

‘It’s okay to be angry, and it’s okay not to like my decision. It’s not okay to speak to me like that. I know you know that. My answer is still no.’

Then, when they’re back to calm, have the conversation: 

‘I wonder if sometimes when you say you don’t like me, what you really mean is that you don’t like what I’ve done. It’s okay to be angry at me. It’s okay to tell me you’re angry at me. It’s not okay to be disrespectful.

What’s important is that you don’t let what someone has done turn you into someone you’re not. You’re such a great kid. You’re fun, funny, kind, honest, respectful. I know you know that yelling mean things isn’t okay. What might be a better way to tell me that you’re angry, or annoyed at what I’ve said?’♥️
We humans feel safest when we know where the edges are. Without boundaries it can feel like walking along the edge of a mountain without guard rails.

Boundaries must come with two things - love and leadership. They shouldn’t feel hollow, and they don’t need to feel like brick walls. They can be held firmly and lovingly.

Boundaries without the ‘loving’ will feel shaming, lonely, harsh. Understandably children will want to shield from this. This ‘shielding’ looks like keeping their messes from us. We drive them into the secretive and the forbidden because we squander precious opportunities to guide them.

Harsh consequences don’t teach them to avoid bad decisions. They teach them to avoid us.

They need both: boundaries, held lovingly.

First, decide on the boundary. Boundaries aren’t about what we want them to do. We can’t control that. Boundaries are about what we’ll do when the rules are broken.

If the rule is, ‘Be respectful’ - they’re in charge of what they do, you’re in charge of the boundary.

Attend to boundaries AND relationship. ‘It’s okay to be angry at me. (Rel’ship) No, I won’t let you speak to me like that. (Boundary). I want to hear what you have to say. (R). I won’t listen while you’re speaking like that. (B). I’m  going to wait until you can speak in a way I can hear. I’m right here. (R).

If the ‘leadership’ part is hard, think about what boundaries meant for you when you were young. If they felt cruel or shaming, it’s understandable that that’s how boundaries feel for you now. You don’t have to do boundaries the way your parents did. Don’t get rid of the boundary. Add in a loving way to hold them.

If the ‘loving’ part is hard, and if their behaviour enrages you, what was it like for you when you had big feelings as a child? If nobody supported you through feelings or behaviour, it’s understandable that their big feelings and behaviour will drive anger in you.

Anger exists as a shield for other more vulnerable feelings. What might your anger be shielding - loneliness? Anxiety? Feeling unseen? See through the behaviour to the need or feeling behind it: This is a great kid who is struggling right now. Reject the behaviour, support the child.♥️

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