18 Important Things That Kids With Anxiety Need to Know

18 Important Things Kids With Anxiety Need to Know

If kids with anxiety could see themselves the way the rest of us do, they would always feel so much bigger than their anxiety. They would feel bigger than everything – as though a tiny, tip-toed stretch could have them touching the top of the world from where they are. If they, like us, could see straight through their anxiety to who they are, they would see their strength, their courage, and their beautifully different and interesting way of looking at the world. They would see their depth of feeling and richness of thought. They would see that their anxiety is just one part of them, and in a way, testament to some pretty wonderful things that make them who they are.

Kids will live up to expectations or down to them. They need to see what we see so they can believe, as we do, in what they are capable of.

Here are some that are likely to be true for them, and that they need to know about themselves as much as we do:

Dear Kids with Anxiety,

Here’s what you need to know…

First, let’s be honest – anxiety sucks. It tends to come at the worst times and when it does, there’s nothing gentle and soft about it. Anxiety can seem to come from nowhere and for no reason at all. The thing is, so many things that we would like to change about ourselves often have strengths built into them. Anxiety is no different. Even though there are things about it that feel awful, there are also things that will also make you pretty incredible in a lot of ways. Here are some of them (and don’t worry – anxiety is very manageable (see here for how) but the good things about you won’t change when your anxiety does.)

  1. Your anxiety is there to check that you’re okay not to tell you that you’re not.

    Anxiety shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure but there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! Without a doubt, you have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. To be completely honest, your brain is pretty fabulous. When you train it to be less anxious, it will just get better and better.

  2. Brains can change. 

    One of the most amazing things about your brain is that you can change it. Every time you do something brave or think strong, brave thoughts (‘I’m okay – I can do this!’), you’re strengthening the part of your brain that helps with brave behaviour. Every time you take strong deep breaths, you’re teaching your brain how to help you feel calm. If you could see your brain on the inside, you would see millions of tiny brain cells making more and more connections every time you do something.  The more connections you have in a part of your brain, the stronger it is and the better it works.The things you do really do make a difference.

  3. You have an interesting and different and wonderful way of looking at things.

    You notice a lot of things that might worry you, but that’s because you’re noticing so much of the world in general and thinking about things deeply. You notice the detail which means you will understand and appreciate things in ways that are surprising and clever and different. You might not appreciate this but trust me, it’s pretty special to be with someone who notices the world with as much richness as you do. The way you see things might feel normal to you, but it’s actually refreshing, wonderful and clever. 

  4. You’re quick to notice when something isn’t right.

    When there’s something that needs attention, you’re right on it. You’re amazing like that. You’ll be the first to spot trouble and to figure out what needs to be done about it. Just make sure you spend as much time feeling the things that make you feel good, as you do feeling the things that bother you. You might have to work really hard at this but we already know that your brain is a hard worker and super capable. When something happens that makes you feel good, let the good feeling stay – keep noticing that good feeling for at least 20 seconds. This will help the good feelings to happen as easily as the worrying feelings.

  5. You’re brave. And strong. And determined.

    Anxiety and courage always happen together. It can’t be any other way. If you’re anxious, it’s because you’re about to do something really brave. Anxiety feels like a big barrier, but even with that, you’re able to push through it and do things that feel scary. That takes determination, strength and courage – and you have loads of all of them. People with anxiety are some of the bravest people on the planet because even when things feel scary, they do them anyway. And they do them every day. The more anxious you are, the braver you’re about to be. 

  6. Your thoughts are powerful.

    Your thoughts are so powerful that sometimes little thoughts can be big worries and before you know it, they’re controlling the way you feel and the things you do. You have a really – really – strong mind, and as powerful as it can be in making you anxious and stopping you from doing things, it can be just as powerful in making you do things that are strong, brave and determined. Your strong mind means that you will always be braver and stronger than you feel. Always.

  7. You are really trustworthy. And people know it.

    Because you understand people and the things that can hurt them, you are really careful not to hurt those around you. People can tell this about you and would think of you as someone who is trustworthy and pretty great to know. Research has even proven it.

  8. People like you, like, really like you.

    People really like you. Research has shown that even though people with anxiety tend to be unsure about what others think of them, those others are likely to be thinking that you’re someone kind of wonderful. Anyone who knows you would know that you aren’t bossy or mean, that you’re kind, honest and thoughtful and that you can be really funny and fun to be around. Why wouldn’t they like you! That doesn’t mean you always want to be with people, even if they’re people you really like. Sometimes it just feels good to be on your own – and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

  9. You would make an amazing leader.

    You understand people really well. You understand the sorts of things that can hurt people’s feelings and you understand the things that can make people feel great about themselves. That’s a true leader. You are trustworthy and people look to you for guidance because they know that you’ve usually thought of everything. You might not be the one putting your hand up to be a leader or a captain, but you should be. People trust you, and they know that if they follow you, they’re in great hands.

  10. You are creative.

    People with anxiety are often very creative. Anxiety and creativity seem to come from the same part of the brain. If you know this and are already doing creative things, keep going – the world needs your creative genius. If you haven’t found your creative spark yet, keep looking – it’s there – it’s just a matter of finding the thing that will make it come out. There are plenty of ways to be creative – drawing, painting, cooking, building, writing, acting, inventing, dancing – so many!

  11. You are great at making decisions.

    You might take a while to make decisions, but that’s okay, don’t rush yourself, because that time you’re taking is your brain taking all sorts of things into consideration – maybe even things that nobody else has thought of. You don’t make wrong decisions from jumping in too quickly or because you’ve missed something important. You are able to notice the important things and take them into account when making up your mind. Imagine if we could all do that! When you make a decision, it will most often be absolutely the right one. Remember though that sometimes there are no wrong decisions – just a choice between two (or more) things that will be equally good for you. 

  12. When you’re anxious, you kind of have the power of a superhero. Or a ninja.

    The reason you feel the way you do when you have anxiety is because your brain has told you that there might be some sort of trouble ahead and it surges your body with healthy chemicals called hormones and adrenaline. (Remember, your brain doesn’t actually know whether or not there is trouble – it’s just letting you know that there might be.) These healthy chemicals are designed to make you more alert, stronger, faster and more powerful, just is case there actually is something you need to deal with. It’s your body going into superhero mode. The problem is that if there’s no superhero action needed (nothing to fight, nothing to run away from) the chemicals build up and that’s why you feel the way you do when you have anxiety. Taking a few strong deep breaths is one way to feel better because it calms your brain, switches off the chemicals, and restores your body to normal.  

  13. You’re people smart. You get people. You really understand them.

    You understand what it is like for people to worry or feel scared or as though they might make a mistake, because you go through similar things. Even if you don’t understand exactly why someone is feeling the way they do, you understand exactly what it feels like to feel ‘not right’. You can take information about people and situations and put them together really well. You can understand how people are feeling or what might help them to feel better. Seriously – it’s no wonder people love you. 

  14. The things that matter to you REALLY matter.

    Your family, your friends, your pets – you care deeply about the people and things that are important to you and you always work hard to make sure they are okay and that they know how important they are to you. It’s the kind of person you are – you really care about the things that matter, and you’ll never stop.

  15. You do great things with information. 

    You’re great at learning and understanding things. That doesn’t mean you know everything about everything, but when you have enough information or when you put your mind to understanding something, you can understand it really well and put the information to good use.

  16. You’re a thinker and a planner.

    You think deeply about things and you figure things out. Even though thinking about things too much can make anxiety worse, it’s also the thing that makes you prepared and very capable. You’re very likely to spend a lot of time thinking about the things that could go wrong, so make sure that you also spend a lot of time thinking about the things that could go right. They’re important too.

  17. Everyone struggles with something.

    Every single person on the planet struggles with something. Everyone. Even the strongest, bravest, smartest person on the planet has things that trouble them or make them worried or anxious from time to time. It’s good to know that you’re human. Take it as a sign that you’re normal, and about to do something really – really – brave. Because that’s exactly what it is. 

  18. You make the world better – no, wonderful – for the people around you.

    Because you know how it feels when things are difficult, you’re really able to appreciate how great it feels to be happy and safe and with people who you like being with.

And finally …

Anxiety can be tough to deal with, but dealing with it has given you certain strengths that are unique to you, and amazing. Own them – they’re pretty great strengths to have. You’re a thinker, you’re creative, you’re brave, strong and determined, and you feel things richly and deeply. You are capable of something wonderful and there’s no need to know what that will be, just that it will be. In the meantime, all you have to do is take one small step at a time, because the biggest, most important, most wonderful things all start with something small and brave.

You might also like …

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

 

 


76 Comments

Una

I just cried and cried like a little baby – it’s like you were speaking directly into my inner child and telling both them, and grown up me: it is okay. Everything is ok, and in fact, it is better than ok. It is wonderful.

Thank you for changing the way I see myself. You yourself are wonderful.

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Claire S

This article so echoes how I practice as a psychologist and have just ordered your book! Thank you, it was a pleasure to read. Xx

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Janey

Thank you for reminding me of my good points. I tend to think of myself quite negatively.

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Jean

Hello!
I received this article from my sister yesterday…things will always come when the time is right as I’m sure you know.
All I can say is thank you. I am 56 and have just gone off my anti- depressant. I read this, and all I could think was, wow, someone really understands.What a huge comfort. HUGE! Many Blessings to you always,
Jean ( ) I have printed this out to share with those whom I know will feel just as I did.

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Cate

Wow as someone with anxiety and a parent of two adult children who suffer/ed with anxiety their whole life this is awesome. I will save it and share it because it just seems so accurate. Thank u much

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Tam

This is brilliant! Thankyou I believe my 13yr old boy will benefit from reading this. Parents who do not understand there child’s anxiety very well could get a lot of understanding from this also xx

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Jay Boll

Great post! I plan to share with several parents/kids I know.

Point #1 is terrific. I’d like to add it to our our page of anxiety quotes on our website, if that’s alright with you…

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eavan

As an adult diagnosed with dyslexia just over a year ago, its been very rocky.
I hadn’t any difficulty spelling, but was always nervous reading at school. My parents caused me alot of hassle growing up as I had to parent them. They rarely got on. I wish it was different today. At this stage, I wish I got some help when I was young. Even now, it is hard to know where to go from here. My parents today never consider my worries or anxieties and just off load theirs onto me. For a very wise and mature youngster, I find a lot is coming up now about parents and their mis-management. I recommend to all the folks out there reading this. Help your child, by respecting them, honouring boundaries and the best help you can give is help their spirit shine by gently encouraging creativity. The non-dependent bond you make will last a lifetime and let your child develop exactly as they are meant to. You then keep the circle of love impact in your lives and your precious family. Good luck x

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Hey Sigmund

Beautifully said. Thank you Eavan. Keep moving forward. You are not defined by your dyslexia or your anxiety. You will always shine bigger than any label.

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mel

I have a 10 y/o and a 2 y/o (lucky, I know). The 10 y/o suffers anxiety and it is only reading your posts that have enabled me to establish that. He worries about everything from friendships to his health and I see a lot of me in him. 1) how much is my anxiety detrimental to him (I worry, always have, but I’ve always considered it a good piece of armour, it doesn’t really affect my life) 2) which way can I present your amazing posts to him without him thinking he has been singled out for analysis? I think he needs to know he is super-creative and funny, he just thinks he’s a dud (he so isn’t, his friends adore him). To add to the misery in his head,my husband’s work has moved so we are uprooting. Just the worst time. Your wisdom would be so loved! His little sis is a different kid: cup always half full and she aims to fill it to the top.

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Hey Sigmund

Mel it sounds as though you have a wonderful little man there. The best way to present the information to him is in little bites. When you see him worrying about something, let him know that you understand why he does this because you do it yourself too, but that you’ve learnt some things that help. Then chat to him about the information you have found in the posts. Tell him that it’s good to worry sometimes, because it’s the way our brains keep us safe, but that sometimes brains can work a little bit too hard when they don’t need to. The sign that he’s worrying too much when he doesn’t have to are the physical symptoms that come with anxieyt. A good way to start talking is to ask about that – ‘Do you ever get that feeling that feels like you’ve missed a stair? Do you ever get a racy heart and sick tummy and you feel kind of worried but you don’t know why?’ – that kind of thing. You may have already read this one but the information in here will be a good starting point https://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-in-kids/.

In relation to your anxiety, it’s very possible that he is picking up on this. The difference is that as adults, our brain is more able to make sense of the worry and feel okay. With kids, parents can inadvertently send the message that the world is a worrying place, but the problem is that they aren’t able to put the structure and logic to it that we can. This does not mean you cause his anxiety – it definitely doesn’t mean that! If your son has a more sensitive temperament, he will be more likely to pick up on your signals and ‘catch’ the worry. No doubt he will be getting a lot of wonderful things from you as well, which is why his friends love him so much. There is nothing wrong with him seeing that you might be concerned about something if he is also seeing that you believe you can cope. This is a great opportunity for him to learn the self-coping and self-soothing language and to build up his confidence and resilience through that. If you can influence his anxiety, you also have enormous capacity to influence his resilience. Let him hear your self-talk – ‘I’m worried about moving to a new city, but I know we’re going to be just fine. It’s pretty normal to worry about a big move like this, but I’m excited about discovering new parks and restaurants for us try and … (anything else he might like to hear about). Your little man is in great hands with you on his team.

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Tam

Reading this Mel is re-assuring my son is similar and so am I when it comes to anxiety, but I believe we can help so much because we have the understanding! That’s all people ever want is understanding! Thankyou Hey Sigmund for your response x

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Sarah

This is a great article thank you. I have a very anxious daughter who has severe dyslexia and ADD. There are some great ideas here to help me work with her and her anxious behaviour.

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Lynelle

I have just read this email from you and wow I’m so impressed!
Thankyou so much for this insightful information that has not only helped me understand my daughter’s anxiety, but my own too.

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Muir m

Hi this helped me a lot as I’m a child going through it I know how useful this is thank u

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Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome Muir. I’m so pleased this has helped you. Keep growing and know how wonderful you are. It’s so awesome that you can open up to this information and take it in. I love that!

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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