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

Janet

I need to go back to work within five months before my disability insurance runs out. I have high anxiety and feel like I’m going to have anxiety when I work forty hours a week. I find myself looking at the clock and wanting time to pass quickly. I don’t know how I can get past it. This article was very helpful. Anxiety is a scary and helpless feeling in the moment of it.

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Cherish

Thank you for another great article! Your Articles have helped our family especially my daughter in so many ways.

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Maggie

Thank you so much, I have been searching for information on mental health sites for a long time. I’ve watched my beautiful son deteriorate for years, very well meaning professionals have diagnosed his difficulties over the years with very little relief of his growing symptoms. Now at 20 years old, he has been diagnosed with Schizophrenia, with anxiety. It has been an ordeal to find him help to manage his symptoms and function. Finally, articles and clear positive advice. I haven’t felt hopefully for a very long time. I’m so grateful for your work.

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Hey Sigmund

Maggie it means a lot to me to know that the articles have been able to help you. It sounds as though your beautiful son is has been through a tough time but now that you have a diagnosis, he will be able to get the treatment and support he needs to find relief from his symptoms and live a happier life. Gosh it must have been so confusing for all of you before, not having any context to what was happening. I hope you are able to keep finding comfort and clarity here.

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Berora

Thank you for a wonderful article. Not only is it full of invaluable advice, but it’s also deeply emotional and moving . Your messages have touched me to the core. I think I needed to read all of these things for myself and I will be sharing this with my children tomorrow. Thank you again 🙂

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Sally

What a positive spin on Anxiety will be reading this to my 12 year old who has suffered with anxiety for 3 years. A book would be a wonderful idea. Thank you.

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Louisa

Thanks so much. I can’t tell you how much this meant to read this not only from someone who experiences anxiety but for my own child who seems to be very much like me!! From now on I will keep these simple things so we can work together on telling ourselves how special we are.

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Hayley

Wow!! what a totally different way of looking and dealing with anxiety, especially for teens with hormones already running crazy through them. This will help many and open other people’s eye’s who don’t suffer with anxiety and don’t understand what that person actually goes through. Thank you! !

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Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome Hayley. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. You’re absolutely right about the importance of teens being able to understand more about why they feel the way they do, whether that’s anxiety or other intense emotions that can often come with adolescence. Knowledge is power and makes such a big difference.

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Candice

This site is the greatest parenting support I have found, on and offline. This article and the one about how to explain what is happening to your child’s body/brain when they are feeling anxious are my two favourites. They have really helped me and my daughter understand and empower her around anxiety. When I read this article it described my daughter beautifully. I can’t wait to share this positive information with her to affirm how great she is. Thank you so much!

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Hey Sigmund

Thanks Candice. I’m so pleased these articles are able to help make sense of things for you and your daughter. I hope when she reads the article she feels the importance of her wonderful qualities.

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Sharron

Another fantastic article! I will look forward to the book. How long till we get mental health into the school curriculum and we can get this sort of info into the cirriculum? What a game-changer that would be!

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Hey Sigmund

Thanks Sharron. And YES – we absolutely need to get more mental health into the curriculum. Without a doubt it would change lives if kids could learn from early on about their mental health and how their brains and their minds work. They do wonderful things with the right information. A game-changer for sure!

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Sue Raath

Hi Sharron, Absolutely agree about getting mental health into the curriculum.

We have a small nurturing school that particularly supports children with anxiety, the Highly Sensitive children that close down in the traditional mainstream school environment. A progressive child centred school that has both an emergent curriculum (teaching via what children are interested in) and a hidden curriculum (all about EQ and identifying, managing and working with our emotions and feelings.) It is a true gift to see the beauty of these children unfold as they start to feel safe in their individuality and within their relationships! Traditional education not only “Kills Creativity” (ref @Sir Ken Robinson) but for some children kills their self confidence and their very souls. The education of anxious children is huge issue as that’s where they spend so much time. x Sue

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Barb

Ohhh Sue. If only we had that school near us. My grandson is so fearful in kindergarten. I see his spirit being dystroyed and it is a huge fight to make him go. He is so full of anxiety that my heart aches for him.

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Sue Raath

Hi Barb,

That makes my heart break to hear that. Our experience is that if we can give children at least the first ten years of their life in a nurturing emotionally intelligent where they have a voice and feel safe, they are able to go onto a wide variety of more traditional environments and fly. When children don’t feel safe, learning shuts down, which then further damages their self esteem.

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Elizabeth

Oh, how perfectly beautiful this message is for all of us anxious folks – young and old alike! I’m 40 now, but never heard any of these things as a child. I am so grateful to you for these words that I appreciate so deeply, and will share with my own children — both of them beautiful, sensitive, smart, thoughtful, and anxious.

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Hey Sigmund

Thanks so much Elizabeth. I so pleased that your beautiful children will be hearing the things that you should have heard when you were a child.

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Anna

This is great and very young people friendly. Will definitely be using it at work. Am a youth worker and love your site. ?

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Shelley

I have printed this and given this to my daughter who has anxiety.
Thank you for always looking at it a different way and explaining it so well

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Hey Sigmund

Thanks Shelley. Anxiety is so complicated isn’t it. If only our kids could see what we see and know how much the world needs their strength, their courage, their beautiful sensitivity.

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Tess

I think this is absolute brilliant. I was a very anxious child who was only berated for it by counselors. I wish I’d read something like this then, but it comforts my inner child even now. Thank you for a wonderful site.

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Hey Sigmund

Thanks so much Tess. I wish you could have heard something like this back then too. If we knew then what we know now it would have changed the experience of anxiety for so many people. It’s never too late though – these are qualities that never change.

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Cindy

Thank you for sharing this, I have had anxiety my whole life and now my 7 year old boy does, this will be so helpful for my son and it has opened my eyes to a more positive way to look at something I thought was so negative. Thank you, Thank you.

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Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome Cindy. I hope your little man is able to take comfort from this and see the qualities in himself that will always be his great strengths.

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Anna

Sincere thanks for a great article, kind of brought a tear to my eye, reading so much accurate information about my wonderful kids. Can’t wait to share it with them.

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Lottie

Thank you so much for this piece, it has really helped me understand anxiety in children. I will read it to my lovely daughter who will recognise herself and hopefully take comfort from it. X

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Amy

Best article I’ve read in such a long time.

This would make a great children’s book. I think my 9 year old would love to read it in book form!

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Hey Sigmund

Thanks Amy. As for a children’s book – there is one in the works that is just going through its final polish, so watch this space. Your encouragement is great timing!

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Amy

I agree…I have a 10 yr old son with social anxiety. This made me cry and smile. I look forward to sharing this with my son.

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Dave

Hey, I’m over 50, and just learned some things about myself thanks to this article:-) Sharing it with my kids, and some friends too!!

Thank You!

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Jen O'Bryan

I love that you have acknowledged the positive part of being an anxious child. The journey is hard because they are so sensitive (my own experience without any knowledge of it in the 70’s) but sensitive children are on this earth for a reason during this time. Their attributes are so valuable. Thank you.

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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
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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