Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

18 Important Things That Kids With Anxiety Need to Know

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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.

 

 


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78 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.

Reply
Cherish

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

Reply
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.

Reply
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 🙂

Reply
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

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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

Reply
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!

Reply
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!

Reply
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.

Reply
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!

Reply
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.

Reply

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Hey Warrior - A book about anxiety in children.








Hey Sigmund on Instagram

The need to feel safe is primal. We’re wired to The need to feel safe is primal. We’re wired to fight or flee anything that presents itself as a threat - and shame, punishment, judgement, exclusion, humiliation all count as threat, even if they come with loads of love.
.
When our kids or teens mess up - which they will, because they’re humans not robots - the way we respond can open them up to our influence or shut them down to it. It can expand the fight and the disconnection, or it can shrink it. In time they will learn to be more in control of their urge for or flight, but for now, we will need to lead the way. (Of course, we are also human, and sometimes despite our biggest efforts to stay calm, we will step into the ring rather than wait for them to step out. We’re human. It’s going to happen. And that’s okay.)
.
If we want them to be open to our influence, we first need to calm their active amygdala (the seat of anxiety and big emotion) by sending the message that we aren’t a threat. We can do this by validating their feelings or the need behind their behaviour (if we know what that is).
.
Validation doesn’t mean agreeing with them, and it doesn’t mean approving of their behaviour. What it means is letting them know that we want to understand the world through their lens. ‘I can see you’re really upset about this.’ ‘It sounds as though you’re worried I’m going to get in your way. I can see this is important to you. I really want to understand. Can you talk to me about this?’
.
When we do this, it sends a message to the protective, powerful, emotional amygdala that it’s safe and that it can back down. This will start to switch off the need to fight us or flee (ignore) us and open them up to our influence, support, warmth and guidance.
.
It also doesn’t mean giving them a free pass on ‘unadorable’ behaviour. What it means is letting them know that we see them, and that we understand there is something important they need. When things are calm, they will be much more open to exploring their decisions, their behaviour, the consequences of that (including any consequences for them), and what they can do differently in the future.
⠀⠀

The need to feel safe is primal. We’re wired to fight or flee anything that presents itself as a threat - and shame, punishment, judgement, exclusion, humiliation all count as threat, even if they come with loads of love.
.
When our kids or teens mess up - which they will, because they’re humans not robots - the way we respond can open them up to our influence or shut them down to it. It can expand the fight and the disconnection, or it can shrink it. In time they will learn to be more in control of their urge for or flight, but for now, we will need to lead the way. (Of course, we are also human, and sometimes despite our biggest efforts to stay calm, we will step into the ring rather than wait for them to step out. We’re human. It’s going to happen. And that’s okay.)
.
If we want them to be open to our influence, we first need to calm their active amygdala (the seat of anxiety and big emotion) by sending the message that we aren’t a threat. We can do this by validating their feelings or the need behind their behaviour (if we know what that is).
.
Validation doesn’t mean agreeing with them, and it doesn’t mean approving of their behaviour. What it means is letting them know that we want to understand the world through their lens. ‘I can see you’re really upset about this.’ ‘It sounds as though you’re worried I’m going to get in your way. I can see this is important to you. I really want to understand. Can you talk to me about this?’
.
When we do this, it sends a message to the protective, powerful, emotional amygdala that it’s safe and that it can back down. This will start to switch off the need to fight us or flee (ignore) us and open them up to our influence, support, warmth and guidance.
.
It also doesn’t mean giving them a free pass on ‘unadorable’ behaviour. What it means is letting them know that we see them, and that we understand there is something important they need. When things are calm, they will be much more open to exploring their decisions, their behaviour, the consequences of that (including any consequences for them), and what they can do differently in the future.
⠀⠀
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