Phew! It’s Normal. An Age by Age Guide for What to Expect From Kids & Teens – And What They Need From Us

Phew! It's Normal. An Age by Age Guide for What is Normal Behaviour for Children and Teens

Being a kid or a teen is not for lightweights – it’s tough out there! There are important things that need to be done, that only they can do. The nature of these jobs depends on the developmental stage they are at. Knowing what is normal behaviour for children and teens can help to smooth the path for everyone involved.

Even as adults, we can be prone to tantrums, tears and wanting to give the world (or particular people in it) an almighty spray sometimes. For the most part, we can hang to the dramatics and anything that might land us in trouble, but even with all of our experience, our fully developed brains, and our capacity to see around corners, it’s hard some days. Imagine what it’s like for our kids.

Understanding what our kids are wrestling with and the developmental goals they are working towards will make their more ‘frustrating’ behaviours easier to deal with. Things will run smoother if we can give them the space and support they need to do whatever it is they need to. Of course, none of this means totally surrendering our boundaries around what’s okay and what isn’t in terms of behaviour. What it means is responding with greater wisdom, clarity and with more appropriate consequences. Life just gets easier for everyone when we are able to take things less personally.

Here are some important developmental stages and the difficult behaviour that might come with them. You’ll often find that their behaviour, though unruly and baffling at times, is completely normal and a sign that your child is flourishing and making his or her way through childhood or adolescence exactly as they are meant to.

The ages of the stages are just a guide. When checking to see whether your kids are on track, read the stages around the actual age of your child. The progression through the stages is more important than the age at which this happens. As long as kids are moving through the stages, it doesn’t matter if they get there slower than other kids.

Infants & Babies (0-12 months).

  • Everything will go in the mouth – hands, feet, food, toys, shoes – you name it.
  • If they are crying, there is something they need – a sleep, a cuddle, food, changing. They don’t yet have the words to communicate, but crying is a spectacularly effective way for baby humans to get big humans to move mountains for them. One of the beautiful things about babies is that they will never ask for more than they need.
  • Wary of strangers and might get upset when familiar people aren’t close by.
  • Babies will stare. They love faces and will stare at faces in real life, in books and in mirrors. Oh to be at an age where staring at other people is socially acceptable – and cute.

The support they need.

Babies have an important job to do – they need to learn whether or not they can trust the world and the people in it. For their part, they will work hard to give you the opportunities to show them how safe and secure they are. They might not have much of a vocabulary but they are masterful little communicators when it comes to letting you know when something isn’t quite right. Be consistently attentive to their needs so they can feel the world as a safe and secure one for them. Feed them when they are hungry, comfort them when they are scared, cuddle them when they need to be with you.  This will form the foundation for their exploration of the world, their independence, their confidence and self-esteem, and their relationships.

1-2 years.

  • Will become more interactive.
  • No understanding of intentionality – they see, they do without thinking about why or what it means. For example, when they bite, it is not to hurt, when they grab toys from other kids it’s not to cause upset, it’s to … well, everyone knows that things are for grabbing, right. Or eating.
  • Will follow their curiosity and will pull things down or apart to see what happens. Ditto with throwing anything onto the floor.
  • Not developmentally able to share.
  • Might seem bossy and selfish, but keep in mind that anything they are interested in or considers to be theirs will be seen as an extension of themselves. Of course, nobody else is entitled to take it!
  • Beginning to understand possession, and developing a strong sense of self.
  • Two of their favourite words to say, ‘Mine!’ and ‘No!’
  • Two of their least favourite words to hear, ‘Mine!’ and ‘No!’
  • Will often wake during the night.
  • Towards the end of this stage, they may become more defiant as they start to experiment with their independence. May tantrum because they become frustrated by their lack of words and their lack of ability to communicate.
  • Tantrums will also be driven by their experience of big emotions (frustration, anger, sadness, shame) that they don’t have the words for.
  • Will be more likely to play alongside other kids, rather than with them.

The support they need.

  • Their attention span is still fairly short, so use distraction to direct them away from what you don’t want them to be doing.
  • When you give them a new rule or direction, it’s likely that the old one will be forgotten. Sometimes you will love their short attention span. Sometimes you won’t.
  • Be positive when you see them doing the right thing.
  • Start letting them know the things that aren’t okay.
  • Ignore the small stuff. There’s so much to learn so it’s best not to overload them. Let them get used to the important things first.
  • Your child will be starting to understand what you are asking but for the sake of your own sweet sanity, let go of the expectation that they will do as you ask. Keep asking and guiding, but don’t take it personally if it doesn’t happen straight up. Or at all.
  • Be kind and gentle when correcting. They are doing their very best with what they have. If you ask for too much you might end up with a more anxious or more defiant or less confident three-year-old.
  • Help them put words to what they are feeling, ‘It’s upsetting when you have to pack your toys away and you want to keep playing isn’t it.’

3 years old.

  • Will experiment with independence. May lead to tantrums.
  • Will want increased control. May lead to tantrums.
  • Will become frustrated when disappointed. May lead to tantrums.
  • May see an increase in tantrums.
  • Will flip between wanting to be independent (‘I do it!’, or ‘by myself’) and wanting to be treated like a little person (‘carry me’ or ‘you do it’).
  • Will form a special attachment to the word ‘no’ and will practice it often. Even when they might mean ‘yes’. (Ahhhh toddlers! Fortunately, evolution has given them a profound capacity for cuteness while they are sleeping. This is important for those catastrophic events, such as when you miss the notification that sandwiches are now to be served as little triangles, not little squares as was previously deemed acceptable. If this happens, just go with it – you’ll need your energy for when they realise you haven’t bought the toothpaste with Elsa on the tube.)
  • Might stutter or stammer.
  • Will start to assert control over their environment by wanting to plan activities, do things by themselves, try challenging things.
  • Might keep calling you back when they are put to bed.
  • Might develop sudden fears and phobias.
  • May confuse real and make-believe, so may have one or a collection of imaginary friends.
  • Still won’t understand sharing and will often assert ownership, ‘Mine!’.
  • Might show jealousy when parent gives attention to other children.

The support they need.

  • Write this down, ‘It won’t be like this forever’. Now stick it on your mirror where you’ll see it every day.
  • Let them know when they do something well. They want to know that you’re happy with them and that they’re doing okay.
  • Be gentle when they get it wrong. Your child wants to do the right thing but has things to do and places to be along the way. Don’t come down hard on mistakes – they’re still figuring it all out and they have a way to go. Treat mistakes as opportunities to teach them something valuable.
  • Don’t have too many rules and be consistent with the ones that you have. Too many rules and consequences that are all over the place will only confuse them and will set the monkey on your back. If you teach them that sometimes they can get away with it, they’re going to keep going. You’d worry if they didn’t.
  • Use ‘no’ gently and in moderation. You want to encourage their exploration and experimentation with the world and their place in it. Guide them, but don’t take away their initiative. And don’t give them any more reason than they have to use it at you.
  • Give them the freedom and space to play and encourage their experimentation with physical and imaginative play. Support their efforts to initiate play so they can feel their own capacity to influence their environment.
  • Encourage decision making but limit choices (‘Would you like to have a bath first or choose your pyjamas first? Would you like to wear the red shirt or the yellow shirt today? Would you prefer corn or avocado with your dinner?’ And then, maybe when they’re bigger … ‘Would you prefer to make me a tea or a coffee?’ Oh let’s just indulge the glorious possibility of it all for a moment.)
  • Don’t feel guilty about taking time out for yourself to recharge. The battles will be easier when you’re replenished.
  • Have bedtime rituals. Bedtime at this age can be exhausting for everyone. Have a ritual and let it be lovely for both of you – a story, a cuddle, a spray of lavender around the room, a kiss, and the words, ‘Love you. Night Gorgeous Boy,’ – or something.

4 years old.

  • Will start to be critical and will define the world in simple terms. Things and people will be right or wrong, good or bad, nice or not nice.
  • They will start to realise the power of their words and will sometimes use them to get their way or to control others. Their command of language will still be loose, so they will often back up what they are saying with actions (hitting, pushing, grabbing) or non-verbals (tone, volume, facial expressions, posture/stance).
  • Will become competitive.
  • Will still blur reality and fantasy sometimes. Might tell lies, extravagant stories, or have imaginary friend/s.
  • Still building their sense of self and experimenting with independence, so might be stubborn, defiant and bossy.
  • Will do all sorts of things to avoid bedtime.
  • Might have bad dreams.
  • Might develop a fear of the dark or become anxious thought of being separated from parent or caregiver.
  • Will start to enjoy playing with other kids rather than simply alongside them.
  • Will test their limits with you but will still be keen to please and help you out when they can.

The support they need.

  • When you set rules, talk to them about why the rules are important. They are curious and developing their ideas about how the world works. It doesn’t mean they’ll ‘get it’ straight away, or that they’ll comply.
  • Keep your requests simple.
  • They desperately want to make you happy. Let them know whenever you see good behaviour.
  • Don’t argue with a four-year-old. Just don’t. They’ll out-do you any day and if they don’t have the words or a sound argument, they’ll just keep asking ‘why’.
  • When it comes to less-than-impressive behaviour, ask what happened but don’t ask why they did it. Asking ‘Why did you do that?’ will just encourage a lie because the boundary between fantasy and reality in the world of a four-year-old is very – very – loose.
  • When they do something wrong, apply gentle consequences but explain why the behaviour is wrong and that you know they can do better next time. They need to know you believe in them – they will do as you do.
  • Be consistent. If you don’t think it’s always important to enforce a rule, your child will, understandably, think it’s not won’t always important to follow it.
  • Encourage their independence but remember they are still young. Let them be little people when they are stressed or tired.
  • Give them lots of kisses and cuddles, even though they are ‘big people now.’

Five years old.

  • Will understand the importance of rules but might divert from the rules when playing. Rules tend to be ‘flexible’ – for them at least.
  • May accuse others of cheating if they don’t win a game.
  • Will start to show empathy and an understanding that other people might have points of view that are different to their own.
  • Will be able to share but might still find it difficult, especially when it comes to their special things.
  • Might be afraid of failure, criticism and spooky things like ghosts or monsters.
  • Attention span will start to increase which will impact on the type of discussions you are able to have with them.
  • Might come across as being an ‘expert’ on everything.
  • Will enjoy joking around and will start to develop ‘potty’ humour.
  • Will be looking to make their own decisions, particularly around what to wear and what to eat.
  • If starting at school, might be moodier, more sensitive or more tired than usual. It’s exhausting having to sit still and concentrate for long periods.

The support they need.

  • Encourage anything that will get your child moving, particularly if it is in a group or a team with others. This will help your child to develop important skills like taking turns, getting along with others, working together, negotiating, compromising, and winning or losing graciously.
  • Set aside time each day to play with your child or spend one on one time together. This will give your child the opportunity to let you into their world, which will always be one of the best places to be. From here you can get a feel for what is going on in their beautifully flourishing minds.
  • Start to expand your child’s emotional literacy by naming and discussing feelings.
  • Connect rewards to responsibilities. ‘How about you help me clear the table and then you can have dessert?’
  • Continue to keep rules simple and try not to have too many.

Six years old.

  • It’s pretty likely that they will know a lot more than you. Just ask them.
  • May start tantruming again.
  • Can start to test the limits but will still want to please you and help out.
  • Will seek praise for their school work and for the good things they do.
  • Will seek to master new skills and to feel competent.
  • Might worry about being away from you.

The support they need.

  • Encourage their efforts and acknowledge when they have worked hard.
  • Encourage effort over outcome to help them develop a growth mindset and a strong self-belief in their capacity to achieve.
  • Ensure they get the support they need if they are struggling at school.
  • Avoid overpraise or meaningless praise and let them know that they are special, but so are other people.

Seven years old.

  • Might tend towards complaining, usually about their parents or the rules, but also about friends and other kids.
  • Will feel misunderstood by many.
  • Can be dramatic about school, friends or life in general.
  • Will try to use words to talk about how they are feeling but may become frustrated and angry when they are upset.
  • Will be becoming more aware of what other people think.

The support they need.

  • Listen and validate what they are feeling and know that you don’t need to fix their problems.
  • Discuss how they might solve the things that are causing them trouble. Give them space and encouragement to come up with their own ideas.
  • Don’t be drawn into the dramatics.
  • Don’t immediately think that things are a mess because they are saying they are.
  • Jump on the positive.

Eight years old.

  • Will want you to think the way they do and will have little tolerance for your difference of opinion.
  • Will be very sensitive to what you think of them.
  • Will often fight with the mother.
  • There won’t be a lot of grey. Things will be black or white, right or wrong, good or bad.
  • This tendency to think in absolutes might cause a little trouble with friendships. Take comfort in knowing that yours won’t be the only small person struggling with this. They’ll be okay – this is the part where they learn about friendships and how to get along with people.

The support they need.

  • When you’re praising their good behaviour, be clear about what it is they have done.
  • Avoid arguing whenever you can. With their black and white thinking, an argument will just mean that someone is right (them) and someone is wrong (you). Instead, ask them to explain their point of view and encourage them to see things from different angles.
  • Spend plenty of time together to cement the relationship for the pull away that is coming at adolescence.

Nine years old.

  • Friends will start to be more important than parents, and this will continue through adolescence.
  • What their friends think will start to become more and more important.
  • Will narrow the friendship field by having closer friendships, but less of them.
  • Will share jokes and secrets with friends.
  • Will push against rules and directions and may disrespect you.
  • Will be able to be loving and silly but will also develop the capacity to be selfish, argumentative and abrasive.

What to do.

  • Provide them with opportunities for independence and to make their own decisions.
  • Avoid being too bossy or directive.
  • Encourage them to start thinking about things from another point of view, ‘What would so-and-so say about that?’ ‘How do you think she felt when that happened?’

Ten to eleven years old.

  • The tantrums of childhood will be calming down by now. Enjoy it because adolescence has heard that you’re relaxing and it’s on its way.
  • Might still argue about rules and the necessity and detail of them.
  • Will try to explain away misbehaviour through excuses and justifications. They will fight hard to find the loophole in the rule.
  • Promises become important and they will remember EVERYTHING – except when it’s their turn to take out the rubbish.

What to do.

  • Don’t make promises you won’t be able to keep. Once they have something on you, they have you.
  • Avoid arguing with them whenever you can. They will often have an argument for everything. Hear what they have to say, make your decision, then pull out.
  • Let them push against you in safe ways – let them try different things, express their own opinions, and make their own decisions when appropriate.
  • Know where your boundaries are and be ready to implement consequences when they make a bad decision. Make the consequence about their behaviour, not about who they are.


  • Friends will be more important than family. You’re still important, but there’s something they have to do – find who they will be when they step into the world as a healthy, independent adult.  Just like you had to do at their age.
  • What their peers think of them will be a source of stress to them for a while, peaking for girls at age 13 and for boys at age 15. They might go to extra lengths to try to fit in with their peers. This might involve making silly decisions or putting themselves in risky situations. Breathe. It will end.
  • They will become more argumentative and will push against you more. This is perfectly in keeping with their adolescent adventure and their experimentation with independence.
  • May become more emotionally distant from you (don’t worry – they’ll come back but maybe not until they leave their teens).
  • Might not want to be seen in public with you – however cool you are.
  • Will experiment with their image, their identity, and the way they are in the world.
  • They may become sexually active.
  • They might be impulsive and they might start taking risks. (For a full explanation of why they do this, see here.)
  • They will be more creative and will start to think about the world in really interesting, different ways.
  • They will act like your opinion of them doesn’t matter but it does – as much as ever.
  • They will often misread your emotional expressions – reading anger, hostility or disappointment when you feel nothing like any of that (See here to understand teenage emotional flare-ups).
  • Their sleep cycle will change. Their circadian rhythm will move them about three hours past where they were as kids. This means that they will fall asleep three hours past the time they used to and unless they are completely exhausted, it will be biologically very difficult for them to fall asleep earlier. They will need about 9-10 hours sleep so will need to sleep in for later.
  • Will want to make their own decisions about the things that affect them.

What to do.

  • Don’t be judgemental or critical – they need your love and connection more than ever.
  • Understand that they need to find their independence from you. Give them the space to do this. Over time, their values will be likely to align with yours.
  • Know that your teen isn’t rejecting you, but is finding their own way in the world – it’s an important, healthy part of being an independent adult – even if it feels bad.
  • Let go of control and go for influence. The harder you fight to control them, the harder they will push against you. The truth is that when it comes to adolescence, we have no control – they will decide how much they involve you in their lives, how much they tell you, and how much influence you have. Make it easy for them to come to you when something happens or when they need guidance.
  • Give them information, but don’t lecture.
  • You may or may not know when they start to become sexually active, so it’s important that they have the information and guidance they need to stay physically and emotionally safe. See here for an age-by-age guide for what they need to know.
  • Don’t buy into arguments – ask them to state their case and talk to you about the pros and cons of what they want. By nature, teens will overstate the positives and underestimate the negatives. Encourage them to tell you some of the cons – nothing is ever black or white.
  • Be the calming force – breathe and wait for the wave to pass over you. It takes 90 seconds for an emotion to be triggered, to peak and to start to fade, provided you don’t do anything to give it oxygen.
  • Help them to plan ahead and see around corners, but without judgement.
  • Encourage their social connections and give them space to strengthen their relationships. An important part of their development is to decrease their independence on the family tribe and to do this. To do this, they will feel an increased need to strengthen their affiliation with a friendship tribe. Encourage and support this wherever you can.
  • Help them find safe ways to take risks such as sports – competitive and non-competitive.
  • Let them know you will always do whatever you can to collect them from any situation when they want to come home – regardless of the circumstances and how late or far away it might be.
  • Let nothing be off-limits when it comes to what they can talk to you about.
  • Wherever possible, let them sleep in to catch up on sleep deficits.
  • Listen more than you talk.

And finally …

Know that along the way from infant to adult, there are some important things that need to be done. There are things to learn, mistakes to be made, boundaries to be pushed, independence to be found. It will be a beautiful, exhausting, baffling, sometimes terrifying, sometimes overwhelming, sometimes traumatic adventure for everyone. Be patient and don’t take their opportunities to learn and grow away from them by taking their mistakes and their less than ideal behaviour personally. Their greatest growth will come from the mistakes they make and the boundaries that they push up against.

Even with the strongest supports in place, they are going to make mistakes – sometimes spectacular ones! Provided they have the support they need, their mistakes will be about their growth, not your parenting.

For our part, it is important that we are there with love, nurturing and a steady hand to guide them and with boundaries for them to feel the edges of themselves against.  Understanding what is normal behaviour for children and teens will make this easier. Growing up is a journey of learning, exploring and experimenting – for them and for us.



Wow!! I have a 13 year old boy with depression and ADHD not only it’s hard to raise a teenager but to add all this other stuff it makes me wonder if I’m doing it right ?

Hey Sigmund

Karla I completely understand how raising a teenager can bring out the doubts. You’re dealing with some tough issues but your son will need the same thing that other teens need – empathy, lots of love, boundaries that make sense, space to be who he needs to be and a parent who works to ‘get’ what he’s going through.


What a great read! I am a single mother of an 8 1/2 year old girl.

Up until a few months ago, if someone had asked me to describe her personality one of the strongest traits I would have listed is that she was a people pleaser (especially at school with teachers and influential peers), which isn’t necessarily something that I wanted her to hang onto through childhood and beyond… But a balance of being a good person, doing good for and to others… (Just because it’s the right thing to do… and it makes her reel good) and finding a way to learn to set personal goals and then feel a sense of self accomplishment without needing a reward, an award, or any act of praise for doing little things, hoping she would learn to thrive on personal growth and build from there.

Well over the last few months, if I ask or direct her to do or help with ANYTHING, she gives me instant attitude, push back, disrespect, sometimes it’s pure and simple defiance.

Even though it’s a daily, often hourly situation… It still shocks me everytime. I don’t argue with her, I do voice my disbelief and disapproval with her quickness to go against what I am directing or asking from her. I don’t spank but am becoming pretty quick to take away privileges (never used to have a need to do this, swear it’s probably harder on me to do this than for her to live with it)…

So, I have gone from being concerned that she would do anything to make others happy, at the expense of herself… to trying to deal with a child that is naturally quick witted but has developed a sharp tongued instinct to ‘fight the system’, to rebuke my direction and authority without even taking the time to think about what or why she’s pushing back. So far it appears that she is still at the top of her 2nd grade class in school when it comes to their daily behavior charts….

Does this balance out? Is there something I can do differently to modify her knee jerk instinct to push back?

I am especially concerned, as I am planning to relocate her to a new state at the end of the school year. I wouldn’t even consider moving her but was laid off from work and am simply unable to find work locally that will replace the lost income.

The new situation promises to not only provide a better income but allow me more time away from work to spend with my daughter and a stable home environment. But… Shes 8, her whole world is her friends and where we currently live. She’s already acting out… I fear what is to come.

Hey Sigmund

Provided that there is nothing else going on and there is nothing at school or with her friends that you need to know about, keep doing what you’re doing. Does she know about the relocation? If she does, it might be that her behaviour is being driven by how she feels about that. Of course this is pure speculation, but could she be upset with you for taking her out of school? This might be her way of letting you know. If this is the case, give her plenty of room to talk about how she feels without trying to change her mind. She will be okay and this is a great opportunity for her to learn that she can adapt to change and be resilient, but she might just need the space to give words to the big feelings she might be feeling in response to this. The more she talks about (or draws about it or writes about it) how she’s feeling, the more her brain will make sense of the feelings for her and slowly they will stop overwhelming her and driving her behaviour. Ask her how she feels about the move, how she feels about you making her move, what she’s worried about, what she will miss – just let her talk. Let it be okay for her to tell you that she’s upset with you about the move if that’s something that she’s feeling (and she might not be).

What you think is really important to her, even when she is pushing against you. Notice when she is working hard to be good or to do something well and let her know. When they’re being a little troublesome it can be easy to get caught up in the negative. Keep guiding her and gently letting her know when something isn’t okay, and keep modelling the way you want her to be. You sound like you’re doing a great job.

Hey Sigmund

Thanks Robert. Kids have a way of stretching us at our edges don’t they. I’m so pleased we’re having a conversation about what’s normal.


Hi there, do you have any advice on how to support teenagers with their first relationship break up? I have a 17 year old daughter who is going through that right now. Lots of crying, but she is shutting me out & won’t tell me what happened. I’m trying to wait patiently, letting her know that I’m here when she’s ready, but it’s so painful to hear her sobbing in her room/shower/bathroom every day. I’ve also been wondering how relationship break ups are different for boys.

Hey Sigmund

Oh Mary a broken heart is such a crushing experience and I know how painful it is when someone you love is going through it. Don’t take it personally that she is shutting you out. She has to deal with this in her own way and she probably doesn’t even have the words yet. Sometimes the only way through something difficult is straight through the middle. She has to feel the feelings and make sense of the experience and there’s just no easy way to do that. Gosh I wish there was. You’re doing exactly the right thing by letting her know that you’re there when she is ready. Don’t worry if she doesn’t come to you – she might be talking to her friends or getting through it on her own. That’s completely okay and nothing at all to worry about.

Something you can do is to look after her immediate physical needs – make sure there is plenty of her favourite food to eat (don’t worry if she doesn’t feel like eating a full meal for a while), help her to make sure her bedroom feels good to be in to give her the best chance of getting a good sleep. If she won’t let you touch anything in her room, maybe buy her new pyjamas – it’s a lovely way to feel nurtured when you’re not quite ready for people.

Getting over a relationships activates the same part of the brain as withdrawal from drugs. This is why it feels so intense and so painful – in a way, she is in withdrawal. Like any withdrawal though, it will pass. Here is an article that will explain what is happening for her. She might not be ready to hear any of it yet, and that’s okay – you don’t want to force anything but it might help you to understand what’s going on for her. Perhaps chat with her about it when she’s ready (‘Your Body During A Breakup – The Science of a Broken Heart

Breakups aren’t any easier for men, but they might deal with them differently. There is some research that suggests that women will feel the full force of a breakup harder at first, both emotionally and physically, but that they will be quicker to recover. Men will still be as devastated by breakups and will still feel the anguish and grief and loneliness of losing someone they care about, but they might show it and deal with it differently. They might be more likely to shut down to how they feel (at least publicly) and push through. They might seem as though they are getting on with things but it doesn’t mean they aren’t devastated. Women might be more open about how they feel and more likely to talk about it, whereas men might be more inclined to hold it in, particularly if the person they lost is the one they used to talk to about the things that mattered to them. Of course, everyone is different and there are no hard rules for this.

I know it feels awful right now, but your daughter will be okay. Just give her the time and space she needs and lots of loving – exactly as you are doing.

K c

At the age of your daughter she will think it’s only her that’s affected by the break up . Hug her ,let her know she is loved, buy her a little bunch of flowers or a small gift and don’t pry if she wants to talk she will and if she doesn’t that’s ok too. Above all else just let her know your support is there while she heals to stand on her own again.. Oh and don’t bag the ex despite her sadness and your anger at the hurt the break up has caused ..


Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas! It’s difficult to be in that place where we can’t fix it for them, so it is helpful to understand there are other concrete things we can do and say to let them know they’re not alone. ?


Hi there. I enjoyed this article. I have a 17 year old boy that has experimented with marijuana, left home twice, and is terribly lazy. He does just as you said spends all his time with friends and despises us. We are at the end of our rope and don’t know how to keep him from making devastating decisions. He already screwed up his high school education at 61/2 credits short of graduating he’s decided to go to alternative school and get his GED. Help!!

Hey Sigmund

It sounds like your family might need some outside support to move through this, given the dangerous boundaries your son is pushing against. Find someone your son will feel comfortable talking to. The idea is for your son to speak to a professional who can find out any underlying feelings or issues for your son and work with him on that. Let your son know that it is so he has someone to talk to and that it is completely for him. He needs to feel as though he can speak freely and as though he isn’t going to go somewhere who will judge his behaviour and tell him how bad his behaviour is. Reassure him that nobody has any interest in judging his behaviour or shaming him, but about helping him to understand the issues that are driving him to do what he is doing.


Absolutely love this article and shared it so friends could also say “phew”. Brilliant title!!! We have recently moved home to live near family (third child has complex special needs and we needed support). We felt it was the right thing to do for all of us (4 kids) and all our family are loving and thriving in the environment apart from eldest daughter who’s 13. We are now 4 months in new home and I really feel for her. She doesn’t hate us which is good but she is struggling to find her place at her new school. So ial media is both a blessing and a curse. As well as the joy of keeping in touch with old friends, it’s distracting her from growing new friends. We still have a great relationship and talk about it openly lots but it is breaking my heart seeing her wilt away wanting so much to go back. I guess it’s going to take a lot longer than previously tbought. Your article has helped me to take confidence to understand which behaviours are normal for her age and which are related to us moving – if this makes sense. Thanks so much. Please do write the book!!!!!

Hey Sigmund

Diane I’m so pleased the article has been helpful for you. 4 months isn’t long in the scheme of things. I wouldn’t worry at all that she still isn’t settled. It’s great that she is able to speak openly with you about what’s going on for her – it will make all the difference. I completely understand what you are saying about social media. At the moment it is the lifeline she needs to find comfort in an unfamiliar environment. It’s a good thing for her, even though it may be prolonging her settling into a new group. It will help to steady the ground for her and give her the strength and confidence to explore her new environment and find where she fits in. This will happen in time. In the meantime, keep doing what you are doing. She’s clearly in wonderful hands.

Lisa lloyd

So when you’ve given a loving , nurturing upbringing to your two sons, one of which is doing ok..but the other who has turned to weed, how do you not show shock? Especially as you need to give boundaries without being judgemental? I’m concerned that his weed use may develop into a gateway drug to worse things. How do I understand why he might feel the need to use this drug to keep up with his peers, but also set boundaries without being judgemental ?

Hey Sigmund

Lisa this can happen in any family, however connected, loving or strong. It’s not clear from your comment how old your son is but I’ll assume he is younger and still living at home.

It is important to take action on this because you don’t want your son falling deeper into a culture that could bring him trouble. It is also important for the health of his brain. At this time, your son’s brain is developing at a massive rate so it is particularly vulnerable.

I understand how shocking it is to find out that your child is doing something dangerous, but if he can see you as a calm, steady force, it will be easier for him to trust you and open up to you about what’s going on and work with you towards a plan. Be shocked to anyone else in your life but as much as you can, avoid being shocked to him. Speak in a calm, almost monotone voice. I know how hard this is, especially if he flares up at you, but if you can stay calm while the emotion passes, you will be more likely to be someone eh wants to come to.

The boundaries you set are in judgement of his behaviour, not him. He will have trouble hearing the difference at first, but stay with it. Let him know how much you love him and there is nothing he can do that will change that. Let him know that you understand his need to try different things but that his drug use will never be okay. This isn’t because you want to stop him having fun or trying new things or connecting with his friends but because of the risks attached to it, what it will be doing to his brain and because of how quickly things can get out of control and lead to addiction.

Work out a plan with him – one that will work for both of you. It is likely that there will be a few things in his life that are making his access to drugs easy – his phone, computer, friends and money. The plan will probably need to involve one or more of these three things in some way. If he wants to be able to have access to these things, he needs to show you that he can use them safely – which means not for drugs. If he wants trust and freedom from you, you can do that, but from him you want the proof that he can handle this. Work out the the boundaries and the consequences. Involve him in deciding on the consequences if he able to do taht.

This has to happen gently and you may need outside support from a counsellor or centre that specialises in drug addiction. If his peers are using as well, and if he is using to keep up with them, it will be important to stay on side as much as you can. The risk is that if you don’t, he will interpret this as judgement and disapproval of him (rather than his behaviour) and he will move closer to his friends who will be willing to accept him, drug use and all.

There are things that both of you need. Discuss this with your son and try to get a clear idea of what it is that he needs, given that one of your needs is for there to be no drug use. If he agrees to giving up his drug use, see what you can let go of for him – maybe the way he dresses, what he does on the weekend, other freedom he might want. Be willing to stretch on other boundaries if you can, provided that he stops his drug use.

For now, the focus has to be getting him off drugs. It is not at all unusual when it comes to drugs and kids to feel as though the problem is overwhelming. If that happens, know that you don’t have to do it alone. Reach out to a drug centre for support and advice. You can do this anonymously and online or over the phone and the people there will be well trained to help you with a direction and a plan. You would be surprised how many families are dealing with this issue. All the best to you and your family.


Hi thanks so much for this!
I am having huge tegrets about my parenting or lack thereof. Unfortunately in their early months after returning to work i left my 2 boys now 11 and 8 in their stay -at- home dad’s hands. However they both lack confidence and self esteem. I get very hot tempered at the smallest mistakes. I am constantly barking orders though they are good kids. I hardly validate their feelings. Is it too late to rectify and get them to regain their feeling of self worth?

Hey Sigmund

Tea, it’s absolutely NOT too late! Start by having the conversation with them. It is an opportunity for them to learn that nobody is perfect and that everyone make mistakes, and that that’s okay. It never hurts our kids to see that we make mistakes sometimes too. It’s an opportunity for them to learn about humility, courage, and the power that we all have to turn things around when we decide to.

Let them know that there are things you wish you had done differently, what those things are, and that you are going to work on changing a few things. Also let them know what you would like from them. It’s still important to have your boundaries around acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Then, jump on the positive when you see it from them.

For every negative interaction kids (and the rest of us) need about 7 positive ones to neutralise the effects of that. Of course, it depends on how negative the interaction is – highly charged ones will need a lot more, but the point is that we all need a lot more positive to neutralise the effects of negative interactions. This is because the brain is wired to attend to the negative more than the positive. It will notice negative things quicker and hang on to them for longer than positive ones.

Positive experiences are powerful, but we just need a lot more of them – and it’s never too late. They have a positive impact on brain and body chemistry (through the release of ‘happy’ hormones, bonding hormones and the neutralising of stress hormones), which changes mood and the way our kids feel about themselves and the world. It’s just making sure that plenty of those positive experiences happen – meaningful praise (don’t overdo it though), playing, a cuddle – anything that makes them feel good.

It’s inevitable that we will get it wrong sometimes and will snap or yell at our kids when they don’t deserve it. Sometimes we’ll get it really wrong. We’re only human. This is all okay as long as long as these times are dealt with and kept in balance.


Very good advice, especially patenting a teenager is difficult and challenging.
Never got this kind of parenting when I was a teenager, so I copy what my parents did. An old school way of threats and fear. Also corporal punishment. spanking was the norm those days. I tried similar to my kids and got a backlash.Now I understand that this is a matter of psychology….
Thanks for the article

Hey Sigmund

We do what we know until we know better. It’s only been the last decade or so that we have been able to see how the brain works and why certain ways of responding to kids (threats, fear, spanking) can be so damaging to them. What’s important is being open to knowing better and trying a different way to do things. You will make a difference.


I always look forward to receiving emails from you and I just wanted to say I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article.
I have two boys, one is 10 and the other 3. They are both very different character wise, my youngest is very different to my eldest when he was 3 (my eldest was very calm but with my youngest we have are still having at least 5 huge temper tantrums a day!)
It can be so challenging trying to be there for both of them when we are all together, because of their age gap they need me in different ways. Although they love each other (most of the time) they get very jealous of each other and it feels like I’m in a tug of war when they both fight for my attention! I really did find this article helpful to put into perspective what they really need from me. Thank you. Louise x

Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome Louise. I’m pleased it has been able to give you some clarity. Sibling rivalry is really normal and can happen in the healthiest and most loving sibling relationships. It can can be so exhausting though can’t it!


This information was very helpful. I have a 16 year old daughter and I think I need sedatives to get through this!! We let her get her license and I have her my mothers Buick park ave to drive. She was excited in the beginning but now she won’t drive it to school. It’s not a teenage looking car (she says old people drive it) but it’s in good condition and it’s safe. I just don’t understand. When I got my license at 17 I was happy to drive whatever my parents gave me. Please help!

Hey Sigmund

They keep things interesting don’t they! What your daughter is doing isn’t unusual or abnormal, but it probably (understandably!) feels baffling and frustrating for you. One of the important jobs of adolescence is to separate from the family tribe and to assimilate with another tribe – peers. This is one of her important developmental goals. You don’t want your daughter being dependent on you for the rest of her life so the venturing out into the world starts now.

To feel safe and secure with her potential new peer tribe, she will check out the similarities and differences between herself and them, sometimes consciously, sometimes not. The more similar she is, the more likely it is that she will be accepted. The more different she is to them the more likely it is that she will be left out on her own. Think of it in evolutionary terms, people who weren’t accepted by a tribe, wouldn’t have had the protection and security of the tribe and they would have been left out on their own to die. This is why so many adolescents will go to such extraordinary lengths to be accepted, even if it means disappointing their parents. It’s why many of them will fight you so hard when you stand between them and their friends, or why they will talk about ‘social suicide’ if you ask them to do something uncool. When they aren’t accepted by a peer group – it feels like death for them. Of course it’s not, but that’s just how it feels. They will all experience this to different degrees and possibly more intensely at different periods of their lives. The newer the environment or the people they are around, the more it is likely to show up. Some of them might not experience it much at all but they would certainly be in the minority.

We would have been similar at that age, but social media has made it more pronounced. There are so many great things about social media but one of the things it does which probably isn’t so helpful is make the comparisons easier and more intense. It’s so easy on social media to only make public the good things. What our kids are seeing is that everyone else has it together and everyone is similar to each other. That’s not actually how it is but of course on social media people tend to put their best face on. It looks as though everyone has it together because the ‘together’ parts are the only parts being shown. Vulnerabilities and differences aren’t as visible.

The need to be like their peers is a real and powerful one for all teens. One of the other lessons our kids have to learn during this phase is that they don’t always have to follow the pack. That lesson will come when she does something that causes her to feel separate from the pack and she realises that she’s actually okay, or that there will always be another ‘tribe’ who will be okay with her just the way she is. They are really hard lessons to learn, but important ones, which is one of the reasons that adolescence is so turbulent for everyone.

It’s important to pick your battles, as you would know. With teens there will be times when, after you’ve heard what they have to say, it will be worth letting them have what they want. Other times, it will be important not to give in. You can see around the corners that she can’t and in this instance, you know she’s going to be okay driving this car.

Let your daughter know that you get it. ‘I know that it’s not the coolest car. It get it. It can feel uncomfortable when you’re doing something different to everyone else.’ And then give her the choices, ‘It’s up to you what you do with this but I know you’ll be okay whatever you do. You can keep driving the car and not worry about what other people might think, catch the bus or walk (or whatever you want the options to be). It’s up to you. I don’t mind what you do but I just hope that whatever you do you make up your own mind and are guided by what you want to do, not by what you think other people might want you to do. I know how strong and smart you are and I know you’ll make a good choice.’ Or something like that. Then step back and let her decide. Keep in mind what is driving her behaviour and it will help what she’s doing to make sense.


Thank you for your reply. Essentially what you suggested is what I told her. I told her that I was not going to take her to school anymore since she has the car so she can either drive the car or she could catch the bus it didn’t matter to me. Hopefully at some point she will realize that people aren’t going to make fun of her and if they do so what, they’re probably the people that don’t have a car and still have to ride the bus. It’s just frustrating as you know. Most parents do all they can for their children and they have a way of making you feel like you’re an incompetent parent.


My skinny daughter thought she was fat too. I told her overweight is not a feeling, but a fact. And showed her a calculator for BMI, and told her that she could always look up her weight and height to see if she is in a healthy range. It worked for her brain because she is a rules girl.

Great article. You can tell by the responses it was greatly needed.


This was a refreshing eye opener for me. I have a 12 year old son that has many challenges. He has ADHD, depression, OCD, anxiety and autism. I often feel judged by so many that don’t have a clue about the challenges our family faces everyday. It is such wonderful news to my ears, that some of the struggles are completely normal. Thank you for this beautifully composed piece.~

Hey Sigmund

Your so welcome Jodi. Being a parent isn’t easy – wonderful – but not easy. I know how much it can hurt to feel judged by those with tiny hearts and narrow minds. It is sad that these people exist, but they are not important. What’s important is what you’re doing – raising your gorgeous young man. I’m pleased the article is able to give you some comfort that you are not alone in your struggles.

D Berry

What a lovely article thanks, I’m in the teenage arena, I’m hoping you have a whole book on teenagers now, if you don’t, please write one! 🙂

Hey Sigmund

Hang in there Sim! The adolescent brain doesn’t become the fully developed adult version until about age 24, so you might have a few more years of the tough stuff. Until then your daughter, as with all people her age, will still be under the influence of an adolescent brain. If you could see how dramatically the brain changes during this time everything they do (even the horrible things) would start to make sense. It wouldn’t make those things any more adorable of course, but they would start to make sense. The main thing is not to take it personally. After 24 things should settle down. It was the same for us when we were moving through adolescence. It just feels very different when you’re on the other side of it!

Jo Bainbridge

I know this might be contentious to say, but the reference to sport being a good option I do not 100% agree with. Sport is by it’s very nature a competition where there are winners and losers and the onus is on beating someone else or being the best. I have found that bullying is ripe and to a teen who does not feel they fit ‘the perfect body’ or ability it can be quite a tough situation. My eldest got into music and has been playing in a punk rock band since he was 16 (no he doesn’t have coloured hair, piercings or wears just black). The strength of character to go up on stage and play music to an audience has just as much merit as going onto a field and playing a sport. The teamwork required to be in a band who write their own music is done by themselves, not an adult coach – again showing dedication, commitment, teamwork, consideration, support. To spend hours and hours in a studio to create their own CD, to find, arrange and attend gigs, usually in a group with other bands and having to share equipment again shows so many skills not required by kids who play sport (as that is already done for them by adults). I am so proud when I see my normally shy and reserved son up on stage in front of hundreds of people playing music he has written!
My second child is into sports, so please don’t think I am anti- sport. All I am saying is that I get frustrated when sport is the only option usually presented to parents as a good option for teenagers. Sporting culture in Australia is huge, but so is the bullying, sexual harassment and ego within it. I for one would want a vulnerable teen kept well away from that. As a teen myself, it was the football guys using and abusing girls, drinking on weekends and bullying the weaklings. All of my ‘geek/nerd/music/art’ friends were gentle, kind, considerate and treated people far nicer.
If your teenager is not into sports, then don’t force them to be. See if they are interested in music, movies, art, writing, volunteering! There are so many other ways to support a teen build friendships and communities other than the local football team.
Sorry if I have offended anyone. I am just speaking up for those who wonder why music and the arts are so very often ignored.

(Loved everything else you had to say though!!)

Hey Sigmund

Jo, we don’t disagree on any of this. As the article says, sport is just one option. There are many things that will meet the developmental needs of our teens, and sport is just one of them that ticks a lot of the boxes – connection with peers, safer ways to meet their drive towards risky behaviour, physical activity (which is important for their developing brains).

All kids are different and what’s important is finding the thing that nourishes them and best meets their developmental needs, whether it’s music, drama, art, sport, walking the dog, running, riding a bike, competitive, non-competitive – whatever works for them. My own kids (18 and 13) have at different times done drama, debating and sport. Sometimes the sport has been competitive and sometimes it has been ‘just for fun’. I understand how damaging the culture of some sporting teams can be, but they are certainly not all like this.

All kids have their strengths and the things that they will help them shine, find their edges and stretch beyond them. At the same time, there will be certain developmental needs they will be looking to meet. Being aware of those needs can make it easier to support them in finding what will best nurture their strengths and helps them thrive. It’s wonderful that your kids have been able to find the things that suit them and that honour their own individual strengths and differences.


This is soooooo wonderful to read!! such a breathe of fresh air to read something that I love everything about! thank you so much. My kids are only 7, 5 and 2 but I’ve learnt so much already from them. Heading off to FB to share right now 🙂


I had very little of this when my kids were growing up. One example of solving a situation comes to mind. When my daughter was three, I found she had cut into every page of a library book. I immediately sat down with her and said, “Oh, you didn’t know that we don’t cut the pages in a book.” “Let’s fix it.” So she helped me tape together all the cuts. We took it back to the library and of course had to buy it. I liked that we could save it as an example of a learning situation. My daughter never cut another book and with self-esteem intact.

Anna Rose

I may not be a parent myself but reading this made me very happy. It is wonderful to see advice like this because of how truthful it truly is. I also loved reading the Advice to some of the comments. It really makes me happy to see others out there that do understand things like this. I know that if my parents had read this when I was still a child I think things might have been a bit easier on both of us. But I want to thank you for having it now so that other parents can help their children now instead of running in to issues later.

I do want to mention that I want to become a Psychologist so reading stuff like this is very inspiring. It makes me want to become the best psychologist I can so that I can make a difference.

Hey Sigmund

Oh Anna thank you! We understand a lot more about kids and raising them now and the internet has made such a difference in the way it let’s us have these important conversations now. I really hope you do psychology. I can see how enthusiastic and generous and open-hearted you are – you would make a great one!


Loves the read! As a mother of 3 girls and the first one was a tough 12 year old! It was an interesting read. Any advice for help with middle child now heading to 12 and struggling to cope with her changing body and claiming she is Fat! She is a dancer, fit and dances 4 days a week, no matter how much I reassure her that her body is just changing to accomodate growing older she doesn’t believe. I explain that as girls grow they grow out then in as they get taller and stretch and it needs to run this cycle for a few years and that everyone’s body is different. Really gets her down and I feel I have exhausted all efforts. She is our worry wart and has never had massive friendship groups, always sticking with just one or two friends. Heartbreaking when they don’t believe.

Hey Sigmund

I know exactly what you mean. It’s so heartbreaking when they have an idea about themselves that chips away that seems so set. It sounds as though you are doing everything right. Your daughter is at an age where she is going to be comparing herself with those around her. In your daughter’s case it is likely to be other dancers. It’s really normal for kids this age to compare themselves and it’s likely that she has a fairly defined idea of how she thinks bodies ‘should’ look.

Something else to try if reassuring her doesn’t seem to be changing anything … When she says she is fat, rather than reassuring her and pushing against her argument, try validating what she feels, but then gently let her know that you’re not okay with her putting herself down. Make it about the way she is treating herself, rather than what she is saying:

‘I understand that you think you’re not happy with the way you look. It must feel bad to feel like that. I’m not going to try to talk you out of it. You know how strong and beautiful I think you are, but what I say about your body isn’t important. What you say about your body is what really matters. It matters a lot. You’re saying some pretty mean things to yourself. It’s going to be hard for your body to be strong and powerful and perform beautifully when you’re putting it down so much. You wouldn’t talk about anyone else like that. I wonder how you think it’s okay to do it to yourself.’ Or something like that. The point is, rather than arguing with what she is saying (‘I’m fat’), try pointing out what she is doing (putting herself down) and the damage that she is doing by that (weakening herself).

Then, at random moments talk about how strong she looks and how beautiful she looks and how wonderfully she’s growing as a dancer. Try to do it so that it is not connected to the times that she says she is fat. She will start to believe it more and take it in when it doesn’t feel as though it’s a reaction to what she has said. You might already be doing this. It can be really easy to fall into the pattern of avoiding talking about the thing that is causing trouble. It’s very possible that when you tell her how strong and beautiful she is, she will respond with, ‘No I’m not. I’m fat.’ If that happens, again let her know that you’re not interested in arguing with her and that you understand that’s how she feels and you’re not going to talk her out of it but that you feel differently.

Let her know that there is such a strong connection between her body and her mind and that it will be hard for her body to be strong when she is telling it that it’s no good. It’s no different to the way that if you hear something scary in the middle of the night, you feel fear in your body, or if someone describes something revolting and gross, you feel a sick feeling in your belly. If you tell yourself that you’re body is no good, you’re going to feel weaker and less powerful. On the other hand, if you appreciate the strength of your body and what it can do and how beautiful it is, it will feel stronger, act stronger and perform beautifully. Another important thing to do it to point out when you see other strong, beautiful bodies that might not be her idea of what bodies should look like. This will start to open her up to the idea that when it comes to bodies, ‘beautiful’ is diverse and comes in many forms.

It’s a difficult issue. If only she could see herself through your eyes she would never doubt herself again.


Going through some serious and dangerous issues at the moment. This was a great read, reminding me of where they have been and reassuring me of where they’re going. I wish this was around ten years ago for the eldest. Thanks for this.

Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome Paul. It sounds as though you’re going through some tough stuff at the moment. What I know for sure is that no family is immune to the difficult issues, however strong and loving the family is. There are some things our kids have to grow through on their own, as much as we might wish it could be otherwise. Wishing your family love and strength.


Teenage years .. A wise woman once told me that when my children became teenagers that I should keep the lines If communication open.. No matter what they tell you try not to look shocked because they’ll clam up and say nothing … Some of the things I heard made my heart shrivel or twist but I remained calm and we survived it all well. Our five are parents themselves these days and they’re all doing fabulous jobs at rearing their own children ..


What happens when you have a 13 year old who is so afraid to do anything alone like walking home from school, wanting to go out with friends? I don’t know how to encourage her to be independent. She has been like this since her dad and I separated. Will it just come later?

Hey Sigmund

It’s not at all uncommon for kids to ‘regress’ a little when they go through something stressful like a separation. She is just adjusting to her new reality, so in context, her behaviour isn’t that unusual and is just part of growing through things, which we all have to do from time to time. Provided that there is nothing else going on she will be okay. Is she physically well? Eating? Sleeping? Looking forward to things? Still able to enjoy things? Okay at school? Growing up can be a bit like 1 step back, two steps forward. Through anything difficult though is an opportunity to grow and flourish and discover qualities, strength, resilience and courage that she didn’t know was in her before.

Now … how to get her back to where she was. The main thing is to support her, but not her avoidance of things. The more she is allowed to avoid the things that bother her, like walking home from school or going out with friends, the more it will strengthen her belief that the only way to feel okay is to avoid the things that feel hard for her. Support her by letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling. Let her know that you get how it can be difficult to do hard things when there have been changes. Validate what she is feeling – she needs to know that you ‘get it’.

At the moment, it feels too big to go from not walking home by herself to walking home by herself. That’s completely understandable. Work out a plan with her that will give her small steps to the bigger goal of walking home from school by herself. It’s important that she helps to work out the steps. It’s called a stepladder, so think of it like that. Maybe it starts with walking home with you twice a week, then halfway home by herself once a week while she’s talking on the phone to you, then twice a week, then halfway without you on the phone, then all the way by herself once a week and on from there. I don’t know what the steps will look like – that is for the two of you to come up with. Maybe it will involve walking to other places first if that feels safer and easier for her. It’s important that there isn’t too much of a gap between the steps – they have to be manageable for her. Reward her when she does a step. This isn’t bribery, it’s encouragement. Bribery is when you reward her for doing something good for you. This is rewarding her for doing something good for her. Work out the rewards with her too. Maybe it’s a special treat when she gets home, her choice for dinner, going out for a milkshake with you, a trip to the movies with you, extra screen time, later bedtime on the weekends, money towards something she is saving for with the end goal being the actual thing – whatever is meaningful for her. Have a reward for every time she accomplishes one of her steps. The rewards have to be immediate otherwise they lose their impact. As she is doing the steps, let her know that you understand that it is difficult for her and that it feels scary but that doing brave things is always scary. Validate whatever it is that she is feeling, even if it is anger towards you for making her do something she doesn’t want to do. As long as she stays respectful everything she feels is valid and okay, so let her know that you see what she is going through and that you understand. If a step feels too overwhelming, it may be that it is too much of a jump from the last step. Talk to her about how to knock the step down a bit to make it a bit easier. The main thing is that there is some sort of progress. Stay on a step until she feels okay about it – weeks if you need to. It’s about slowly building her confidence in her own capacity to cope with change and doing things on her own – and that will take time, but she’ll get there. As she does this, she will also build up her confidence and skills to deal with things in the future that might feel too big for her. It’s an opportunity for her to grow and and to realise that she is stronger and more capable than she thinks she is.

J Harper

Babies dont come with instructions neither do the growing years. But to read something like this when you have them “teenage” years coming from 2 girls, has made me feel so much better and more positive about been a parent. I now feel i can relax a little knowing it is really just a “teenage thing”, that will pass , onto something else, or the next stage, but i can now feel proud of the way i am bringing my girls up, and it is somewhat “normal teenage years” Thank you 🙂


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All kids need the 'the right things' to thrive. The right people, the right motivation, the right encouragement. Out in the world, at school, or wherever they find themselves, kids and teens with anxiety don't need any extra support - they just need their share, but in a way that works for them. 

In a world that tends to turn towards the noise, it can be easy for the ones that tend to stand back and observe and think and take it all in, to feel as though they need to be different - but they don't. Kids and teens who are vulnerable to anxiety tend to have a different and wonderful way of looking at the world. They're compassionate, empathic, open-hearted, brave and intelligent. They're exactly the people the world needs. The last thing we want is for them to think they need to be anyone different to who they are.

#parenting #anxietysupport #childanxietyawareness #mindfulparenting #parent #heywarrior #heysigmund
Sometimes silence means 'I don't have anything to say.' Sometimes it means, 'I have plenty to say but I don't want to share it right here and right now.'

We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety are thoughtful, observant and insightful, and their wisdom will always have the potential to add something important to the world for all of us. Until they have a felt sense of safety though, we won’t see it.

This safety will only happen through relationship. This isn’t a child thing, or an anxiety thing. It’s a human thing. We’re all wired to feel safest when we’re connected to the people around us. For children it starts with the adult in the room.

We can pour all the resources we want into learning support, or behaviour management, but until children have a felt sense of safety and connection with the adult in the room, the ‘thinking brain’ won’t be available. This is the frontal cortex, and it’s the part of the brain needed for learning, deliberate decisions, thinking through consequences, rational thinking. During anxiety, it’s sent offline.

Anxiety is not about what is actually safe, but about what the brain perceives. A child can have the safest, most loving, brilliant teacher, but until there is a felt sense of connection with that teacher (or another adult in the room), anxiety will interrupt learning, behaviour, and their capacity to show the very best of what they can do. And what they can do will often be surprising - insightful, important, beautiful things.

But relationships take time. Safety and trust take time. The teachers who take this time are the ones who will make the world feel safer for these children - all children, and change their world in important, enduring ways. This is when learning will happen. It’s when we’ll stop losing children who fly under the radar, or whose big behaviour takes them out of the classroom, or shifts the focus to the wrong things (behaviour, learning, avoidance, over relationships).

The antidote to anxiety is trust, and the greatest way to support learning and behaviour is with safe, warm, loving relationships. It’s just how it is, and there are no shortcuts.
In uncertain times, one thing that is certain is the profound power of you to help their world feel safe enough. You are everything to them and however scary the world feels, the safety of you will always feel bigger. 

When the world feels fragile, they will look to us for strength. When it feels unpredictable, they will look to us for calm. When they feel small, we can be their big. 

Our children are wired to feel safe when they are connected and close to us. That closeness doesn’t always have to mean physical proximity, but of course that will be their favourite. Our words can build their safe base, “I know this feels scary love, and I know we will be okay.” And our words can become their wings, “I can hear how worried you are, and I know you are brave enough. You were built for this my love. What can you do that would be brave right now?”

We might look for the right things to do or the right things to say to make things better for them, but the truth of it all is the answer has always been you. Your warmth, your validation, your presence, your calm, your courage. You have the greatest power to help them feel big enough. You don’t have to look for it or reach for it - it’s there, in you. Everything you need to help them feel safe enough and brave enough is in you. 

This doesn’t mean never feeling scared ourselves. It’s absolutely okay to feel whatever we feel. What it means is allowing it to be, and adding in what we can. Not getting over it, but adding into it - adding strength, calm, courage. So we feel both - anxious and strong, uncertain and determined, scared and safe ‘enough’. 

When our children see us move through our own anxiety, restlessness, or uncertainty with courage, it opens the way for them to do the same. When our hearts are brave enough and calm enough, our children will catch this, and when they do, their world will feel safe enough and they will feel big enough.
The temptation to lift our kiddos out of the way of anxiety can be spectacular. Here's the rub though - avoidance has a powerful way of teaching them that the only way to feel safe is to avoid. This makes sense, but it can shrink their world. 

We also don't want to go the other way, and meet their anxiety by telling them there's nothing to worry about. They won't believe it anyway. The option is to ride the wave with them. Breathe, be still, and stay in the moment so they can find their way there too. 

This is hard - an anxious brain will haul them into the future and try to buddy them up with plenty of 'what-ifs' - the raging fuel for anxiety. Let them know you get it, that you see them, and that you know they can do this. They won't buy it straight away, and that's okay. The brain learns from experience, so the more they are brave, the more they are brave - and we know they are brave.

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To do this, we will often need to ‘go first’ with calm and courage. This will mean calming our own anxiety enough, so we can lead them towards things that are good for them, rather than supporting their avoidance of things that feel too big, but which are important or meaningful. 

The very thing that makes you a wonderful parent, can also get in the way of moving them through anxiety. As their parent, you were built to feel distress at their distress. This distress works to mobilise you to keep them safe. This is how it’s meant to work. The problem is that sometimes, anxiety can show up in our children when it there is no danger, and no need to protect. 

Of course sometimes there is a very real need to keep our children safe, and to support them in the retreat from danger. Sometimes though, the greatest things we can do for them is support their move towards the things that are important a or meaningful, but which feel too big in the moment. One of the things that makes anxiety so tough to deal with is that it can look the same whether it is in response to a threat, or in response to things that will flourish them. 

When anxiety happens in the absence of threat, it can move us to (over)protect them from the things that will be good for them (but which register as threat). I’ve done it so many times myself. We’re human, and the pull to move our children out of the way of the things that are causing their distress will be seismic. The key is knowing when the anxiety is in response to a real threat (and to hold them back from danger) and when it is in response to something important and meaningful (and to gently support them forward). The good news is that you were built to move towards through both - courage and safety. The key to strengthening them is knowing which one when - and we don’t have to get it right every time.♥️

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