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!

Reply

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For way too long, there’s been an idea that discipline has to make kids feel bad if it’s going to steer them away from bad choices. But my gosh we’ve been so wrong. 

The idea is a hangover from behaviourism, which built its ideas on studies done with animals. When they made animals scared of something, the animal stopped being drawn to that thing. It’s where the idea of punishment comes from - if we punish kids, they’ll feel scared or bad, and they’ll stop doing that thing. Sounds reasonable - except children aren’t animals. 

The big difference is that children have a frontal cortex (thinking brain) which animals and other mammals don’t have. 

All mammals have a feeling brain so they, like us, feel sad, scared, happy - but unlike us, they don’t feel shame. The reason animals stop doing things that make them feel bad is because on a primitive, instinctive level, that thing becomes associated with pain - so they stay away. There’s no deliberate decision making there. It’s raw instinct. 

With a thinking brain though, comes incredibly sophisticated capacities for complex emotions (shame), thinking about the past (learning, regret, guilt), the future (planning, anxiety), and developing theories about why things happen. When children are shamed, their theories can too easily build around ‘I get into trouble because I’m bad.’ 

Children don’t need to feel bad to do better. They do better when they know better, and when they feel calm and safe enough in their bodies to access their thinking brain. 

For this, they need our influence, but we won’t have that if they are in deep shame. Shame drives an internal collapse - a withdrawal from themselves, the world and us. For sure it might look like compliance, which is why the heady seduction with its powers - but we lose influence. We can’t teach them ways to do better when they are thinking the thing that has to change is who they are. They can change what they do - they can’t change who they are. 

Teaching (‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘How can you put this right?’) and modelling rather than punishing or shaming, is the best way to grow beautiful little humans into beautiful big ones.

#parenting
Sometimes needs will come into being like falling stars - gently fading in and fading out. Sometimes they will happen like meteors - crashing through the air with force and fury. But they won’t always look like needs. Often they will look like big, unreachable, unfathomable behaviour. 

If needs and feelings are too big for words, they will speak through behaviour. Behaviour is the language of needs and feelings, and it is always a call for us to come closer. Big feelings happen as a way to recruit support to help carry an emotional load that feels too big for our kids and teens. We can help with this load by being a strong, calm, loving presence, and making space for that feeling or need to be ‘heard’. 

When big behaviour or big feelings are happening, whenever you can be curious about the need behind it. There will always be a valid one. Meet them where they without needing them to be different. Breathe, validate, and be with, and you don’t need to do more than that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days and some things are rubbish, and that sometimes those days and things last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. 

But the learning comes from experience. They can’t learn to manage big feelings unless they have big feelings. They can’t learn to read the needs behind their feelings if they don’t have the space to let those big feelings come back to small enough so the needs behind them can step forward. 

When their world has spikes, and when we give them a soft space to ‘be’, we ventilate their world. We help them find room for their out breath, and for influence, and for their wisdom to grow from their experiences and ours. In the end we have no choice. They will always be stronger and bigger and wiser and braver when they are with you, than when they are without. It’s just how it is.♥️
When kids or teens have big feelings, what they need more than anything is our strong, safe, loving presence. In those moments, it’s less about what we do in response to those big feelings, and more about who we are. Think of this like providing a shelter and gentle guidance for their distressed nervous system to help it find its way home, back to calm. 

Big feelings are the way the brain calls for support. It’s as though it’s saying, ‘This emotional load is too big for me to carry on my own. Can you help me carry it?’ 

Every time we meet them where they are, with a calm loving presence, we help those big feelings back to small enough. We help them carry the emotional load and build the emotional (neural) muscle for them to eventually be able to do it on their own. We strengthen the neural pathways between big feelings and calm, over and over, until that pathway is so clear and so strong, they can walk it on their own. 

Big beautiful neural pathways will let them do big, beautiful things - courage, resilience, independence, self regulation. Those pathways are only built through experience, so before children and teens can do any of this on their own, they’ll have to walk the pathway plenty of times with a strong, calm loving adult. Self-regulation only comes from many experiences of co-regulation. 

When they are calm and connected to us, then we can have the conversations that are growthful for them - ‘Can you help me understand what happened?’ ‘What can help you so this differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right? Do you need my help to do that?’ We grow them by ‘doing with’ them♥️
Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting

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