Positive Discipline For Anxious (and Non-Anxious) Kids

Positive Discipline for Anxious (And Non-Anxious) Kids

By their very nature, anxious kids tend to be sensitive and perfectionistic. They want to be the best they can be and they want you to be happy with them. Because of this, discipline for anxious kids comes with its own challenges. Done positively though, it can build your anxious (or non-anxious) child and cement your relationship. Here’s how to make sure of that:

  1. Discipline, not punishment.

    Discipline. As in ‘disciple’. As in, ‘to teach’. Kids are going to get it wrong. So will we. Hope so, because it’s how we learn. We’re looking for long term results. The more they take on the lessons when they’re little, the easier the run you’ll have when they’re adolescents.

    Discipline is different to punishment. It’s more important, more productive and focusses on teaching a lesson rather than modifying a behaviour. Punishment will teach a behaviour because of fear of consequences, discipline will teach a behaviour because that behaviour comes to makes sense.

    That doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences – all of our choices have consequences and that’s an important lesson, but with positive discipline, the consequences make sense: ‘When you lie to me it damages my trust. I know we can get it back because I know that’s not the person you want to be, but until we have that trust back between us I don’t want you going anywhere after school. I need to know that you’re safe and that I can trust you to be where you say you’re going to be and at the moment I can’t,’ … which is very different to, ‘You lied to me so you’re grounded.’

    Kids will see the world a little differently to grown-ups – how can they not. Teach them about your world with love and respect. Like any teaching, it will take time to learn the lesson – but they will learn it and when they do, they’ll own it. Taking on a behaviour because that behaviour makes sense is vastly different to taking on a behaviour in order to avoid the consequences. One leads them, one forces them. Which way would you be most responsive to?

  2. Let the value be the driver.

    Focus on the value to be taught, rather than the ‘wrongness of the behaviour. Respect? Kindness? Integrity? Honesty? Whatever it is, let this shape your response.

    For every rule, be clear about the value behind it. Have the conversation and let them know why it’s important.

    For example, if you’ve just found out that you’ve been lied to about homework, work out the value this violates. The biggest problem isn’t the homework, but the lie – it violates the value of respect, honesty and it violates trust. Explain this and explain why the lie is worse than the behavior it’s covering. When you have them on board with the values, they’ll write the rules themselves.

  3. Relationship. Relationship. Relationship.

    Okay, maybe not so eloquent when you say it three times, but the point is that the better your relationship with your child, the more effective your discipline will be. They want to make you happy, even if it doesn’t always work out that way. Preserve the relationship by focusing on their behaviour, not on them.

    This is important for all kids, especially anxious ones. Anxious kids tend to be perfectionistic and they need to know that even if you’re not keen on their behavior, you still think they’re amazing and that you love them no matter what. They’ll be quick to see their wrongdoing and you’ll want to minimise the potential for shame. They’ll be ready to feel it because they often hold themselves to such high standards. A little bit of shame is fine – it’s the thing that measures behaviour and keeps us on track, but too much will fall them.

    Anxious kids will be very quick to interpret a stern word from you as evidence that they aren’t good enough. Reassure them. Hold them or touch them while you talk to them about their misbehaviour.

  4. Don’t even try to be ‘perfect’. It’s bad for them and it’s bad for you.

    Let them know when you get it wrong so they can see that it’s not the end of the world and that everyone gets it wrong sometimes. When you do make a mistake – whether it’s getting them to school late, saying the wrong thing, taking a wrong turn or taking out your bad mood on them – let them see you acknowledge the mistake and be kind to yourself in response. ‘Oh no. I’ve taken a wrong turn. Not to worry – we can sort this out easy peasy,’ or, ‘I’ve been a bit grumpy today and I’m sorry if I feel like I’ve been grumpy at you. I’m not. You’re wonderful. I’m just a bit tired so tonight I’m going to have a good sleep so I don’t feel cranky tomorrow.’

    Modelling your imperfections and your acceptance of those imperfections will help your child to feel less pressure to be perfect. You might yell when you shouldn’t, say the wrong thing, land a slap-together dinner on the table at 9pm or forget to pick them up the day school ends early (once … it was once!). There will be times you stuff up monumentally on the parent front. It’s going to happen. Which is good, great actually, because there’s your opportunity to teach them a lesson that will build them for life: Everybody gets it wrong sometimes and that’s okay – it’s how we learn to do it better next time.

  5. Separate emotions from behavior.

    Validate the feeling. Reject the behaviour. Kids feel what they feel because they feel it. It’s just that simple. What they’re feeling might not make sense to you, but to them, it makes perfect sense. The emotion is valid. The way they’re expressing it might not be. Kids are no different to us – they need to feel heard. If they don’t, nothing you say will go in because they’ll be too busy trying to figure out how to make you ‘get it’.

    Empathise with the feeling, reject the behavior. ‘I know you’re upset that she knocked down your building – I really get that – but you can’t throw things at her.’ Make them accountable for their behavior, but let them know that you understand how they’re feeling. Kids don’t learn empathy, they experience it. The more they experience empathy from their imporatnt adults, the more they will develop the capacity for empathy.

    It’s an important lesson for them moving forward that just because they feel something, doesn’t always mean that the right thing to do is to act on it. At the heart of emotional intelligence is being able to identify and respond appropriately to emotions in the self and others.

  6. Deal with emotion first.

    As with any of us, times of high emotion are not the time for wisdom, lectures, explanations or problem-solving. Don’t try to make your point then – it’s just not going to happen and it will make things worse. During high emotion, the part of the brain that can hear rationality or logic is ‘offline’, so they physically don’t have the capacity to receive or engage in a rational conversation. It’s the way it is for all of us.

    Instead, they need to know you that you’re there, that you see them, and that you get it (their distress). That doesn’t mean you agree with them, or that you’re supporting the way they are behaving, but that you can support them when they’re fragile. Think of it as being the scaffold between their high emotion, and the calm you want them to reach. To do this, acknowledge the emotion, ‘I know you’re angry/sad/confused’ right now,’ then breathe and be with. Let them feel you as a strong, steady presence.

    When kids are out of control, they are quite literally, ‘out of control of their thinking brain’. They aren’t doing it to be naughty or manipulative. They’re doing it because there is something that they need they aren’t getting. It’s likely they don’t even know what that is – they just know there’s something. It might be attention, security, comfort, a sleep, power and influence – whatever it is it will be valid, even if their way of going about it is a long way off adorable.

    If the calm doesn’t come, hold the space for them to find calm, but don’t separate from them either emotionally (shame, withdrawing from them) or physically. If you need to walk away, it’s always okay to do that, but let them know that you’re there if they need you. ‘I’m just going to get a drink. I’ll be right back.’ Or, ‘I can see how important this is to you and I want to talk to you about it, but I can’t do that while you’re yelling like that. I’ll be right here when you’re ready to talk.’

    If they want you to go away do that, but stay in emotional proximity. ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here until you feel better.’ make space for them let them have space to settle down, but let them know that you’re there when they’re ready. If there needs to be a consequence, let it be for what they did while they were upset (such as hurting someone or breaking something), not that they were upset. Let the limits be on behaviour, not thoughts and feelings.

  7. Don’t get emotional. (Or should I say, don’t let on that you’re emotional.)

    When you’re setting or protecting a boundary, communicate your message as matter-of-factly as you can. This can take the strength of a gladiator to pull off but it’s important. Stay with the message and don’t bring in irrelevant details, (‘Grandma would be very disappointed’), old details, (‘Yesterday you painted your sister and today you’re putting her for-special dress on the dog – what’s going on with you?’). Don’t lecture, rant, or threaten to cancel Christmas (unless you actually are going to cancel Christmas – but that might be overkill for a for-special dress that now smells like dog.)

  8. Don’t jolt them out of the fun stuff.

    Give a warning that the end of an activity, or the beginning of another is coming. ‘Another 5 minutes and then it’s time to pack up,’ or, ‘bedtime in 10’.  You get the idea.

  9. Have a routine – for everything.

    They might not always thank you for it – and you might not always thank yourself – but routines provide security and predictability, and that’s a little bit of wonderful for everyone. There’ll be plenty of times you’ll feel like straying away from the routine (or is that just me?), but it’s so important and will make their world safe and structured. If there’s turmoil going on inside of them, at least they know what to expect in the world outside of themselves.

  10. Your priorities will become theirs. Set them wisely.

    Nothing matters more to your kids than you do. They want to keep you happy so they’ll shape their behaviour around your responses. If you make more of a big deal of messy rooms than you do about them being brave, they will inevitably move towards tidiness being the most important value. Of course, tidiness is an important one but there are others that are more so.

    We can’t do everything. Neither can they. Some things you just need to let go of. This will give them permission to let go of having to be perfect too. There will be plenty of things that deserve high emotion – doing well at school, being kind, being helpful, being brave – save your high emotion for that and let the smaller things go. Spilling food on the floor never did anyone any harm.

  11. Choices.

    Allow for choices within your routine. Give your kids the opportunity to have some control within the safety of the boundaries you’ve set. ‘Do you want to get dressed first or have breakfast first?’ Make sure there’s enough fun happening though – you don’t want life to become one chore after another – story with bedtime, cuddle and a chat before breakfast, tv after a bath – whatever works for you.

  12. Be consistent.

    Few things will stoke anxiety more in an anxious child than unpredictability. One of the ways anxious people relieve their anxiety is through control. This isn’t done to be insensitive or ‘bossy’, even though it might come out that way. It’s done because of their great and very understandable need for predictability and safety.

    The truth is that anxious kids don’t need to control everything in order to feel safe but they do need someone to take the lead and you’re perfect for the job. They need to understand that they can trust you to be in control of their lives. To show them, be predictable and clear with boundaries and have confidence in protecting those boundaries. Predictibility will increase their sense of safety and will help to minimise the likelihood of an anxious response.

    Without limits kids have nothing to guide their behaviour. The options become vast and overwhelming. They need to feel like you’ve got them, that you’ve set a safety zone and that within that, they’re fine. Of course they’ll push up against the edges and sometimes they’ll move well outside them – that’s all part of growing up and stretching their wings but even then, the boundaries will offer some sort of guide. In time, children without limits wil become controlling and demanding – and that just doesn’t end well for anyone.

  13. And your expectations?

    It’s likely that your anxious child already expects a lot of themselves. Be alive to the possibility that you may be expecting too much or too little. If you overestimate their abilities you’ll add to their stress. They’ll want to make you happy and they’ll push themselves to get there. Underestimate their capacity and you’ll undermine their confidence. If you believe they can, it will make it easier for them to believe they can. Make sure your expectations are age appropriate and be careful that your own anxiety doesn’t weigh in. (And I know that’s easier said than done!)

You’re only human. Thank heavens. Because living with perfection is no fun for anyone. Perfect people don’t make great humans. It’s hard to be with someone who knows everything and has nothing left to learn. (Or someone who thinks they are, anyway.) Be grateful for the mistakes you make along the way. The world doesn’t want anything but real humans who make real mistakes raising our next generation of world shakers.


47 Comments

Hannah

Karen I absolutely love the way you write and describe all these so very important issues. As a mum and a teacher – thank you for this real and heart felt insight and advice

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Jenn

Thank you so much for your articles!
Your suggestions translate to all humans, and I am grateful for your ability to simplify them so I can put them into action. I work with adults who have intellectual disabilities and find that your content (with some edits of course for boundaries and age appropriateness) is applicable and helpful in setting all of us up for success.
Cheers!

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Anne

Can you send this article by email? I don’t want to print it with all the comments included.
Thank you.

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Karen Young

Anne you can print the article without the comments with the green printer button at the side in the list of share buttons. On a mobile device it will be the green button behind the grey ‘share this’ button at the bottom of the screen. It will generate a printable version without the comments. I hope this helps.

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Susan

Wish I had read this before my first day of teaching or first day of motherhood! It took many years of living, teaching and learning to really figure out and internalize most of these things.

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Tricia Prues

This is beautiful. Thank you for the practical tips. It can be hard to keep relationships first in the craziness of child rearing, but it’s so important.

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Anna

After reading this article and applying most of the things, i feel helpless
In my situation, i have no support network so my 4 years old has seen me only through out his 4 years old life
He has become so stubburn with everything, starting a day with brushing his teeth, the first thing comes out of this mouth is “no”

Ething is “no” for him

Nothing works to improve his behavior. Now his baby sister has started copying him

I have been looking for boot camp or boarding school for him but not finding one

I think he needs to go away from me in very strict disciplined enviorment

Can u please help?really need it

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Hey Sigmund

Anna I really understand how frustrating it can be when the little people in your care seem to push against everything you ask of them. The most important thing is not to take this personally. Your son’s beahviour is not a sign of bad parenting or bad children. Children don’t want to disconnect from their parents and they don’t want to do the wrong thing. The thing is, their job is to discover who they are and their place in the world and they will go through stages, as your son is now, that they will also have to discover who they are independently of us. This will mean sometimes experimenting with separating themselves from us, which is why your son is saying ‘no’ to everything. He wants to be different from you. He wants to be seen as his own person with his own mind. The more you stop this, the more he will push against you. What he’s doing sounds fairly normal, though I appreciate that their may be other things happening that haven’t been shared in your comment. Saying ‘no’ to everything is pretty standard behaviour for 4 year olds, but one of the things that can happen is the more they feel our frustration or hopelessness or anger, the more they will push against that and possibly become more defiant.

It is still really important to have your boundaries around acceptable behaviour, but you will be more likely to get his co-operation if you first acknowledge that he feels differently to you. ‘I understand you don’t want to brush your teeth. You’d much rather be out playing wouldn’t you. Let’s see how shiny you can make them in two minutes and then you can play/ read a story.’ Then, give him some of the control back by giving him a choice. ‘I can see that your big enough now to make some of your own decisions, so would you like to brush your teeth before you get dressed or straight after?’ or something like that. Here is an article that might help you https://www.heysigmund.com/how-to-avoid-shaming/. At 4 years old, the last thing your son needs is boot camp or boarding school. He needs to be able to explore the world and his part in it and the space to explore and learn with gentle loving boundaries from you. Don’t take it personally if he pushes against your boundaries and disagrees with everything you say – that’s what kids do.

I understand that things can get overwhelming. Every parent has been there. I expect there isn’t a parent on the planet who hasn’t felt completely overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated and helpless at some point – probably many points. It’s completely okay to need extra support sometimes and guidance for how to do things so things run smoother. None of us were born knowing this stuff. A therapist or a counsellor will be able to help you find healthy boundaries in relation to your son and coach you with how to keep them with your son, but in ways that won’t crush his spirit and that will help you to feel more in control and more empowered. 4 year olds can be tough, but our job as parents is to guide them and preserve their spirit, curiosity and independent minds. Once you knock that out of them, you can’t knock it back in. I would really encourage you to find the support of a counsellor or therapist to support you.

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Jessica

My 10 year old daughter has severe OCD and has difficulty regulating her emotions. She is on medication for both OCD and anger management. She sees a psychiatrist and a psychologist and my husband and I are working with a psychologist as well. Over the past two years our daughter has become incredibly anxious any time my husband or I swallows. We have worked on this a long time in therapy and are still struggling with it. She has escalated to often pinching or attempting to scratch me when she thinks I have swallowed. I am really struggling with what kind of discipline/therapy/consequence to use. What she is doing is not okay and I need something consistent to try. Thank you for your advice.

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Hey Sigmund

Hi Jessica. This sounds awful for you – and for you to know she’s going through it. It sounds as though you are getting the right support for your daughter though. First of all, you’re right – pinching and scratching isn’t acceptable, but it sounds as though there is something that’s really worrying her when you swallow. If it’s been developing over the last two years, it sounds like it’s a real fear for her. For that reason, in my opinion, I don’t think discipline is the answer because it won’t change the underlying reason she’s doing it.

It’s important to be guided by the therapists who are currently working with you and your daughter because they would know her and would have much more of an idea of what’s going on. I expect though, that anything you can do to understand what’s happening for her when you swallow will be valuable. If you push against it, there’s a chance you’ll cause her to push back harder because in her eyes, ‘you just don’t understand’. There’s something that happens for her when you swallow that feels bad. She responds the way she does to control that bad feeling, not to hurt you. Her reaction isn’t right but her feeling is valid, because it’s her true, honest feeling. That’s where you need to meet her on. Let her know that you understand that something happens to her when you swallow and you want to understand more about that. Feed back what you see, ‘I can see that you get upset when I swallow. You want to scratch me.’ By doing this, you’ll be letting her know that you see her and that you want to understand. She has nothing to push back against then.

See if you can get her to tell you as much as she can about what she thinks or feels – in her body, in her head – when you swallow. She might not have the words yet, but keep validating her and giving her space and the opportunity to explore it, without resistance. Explain that although you understand that she feels like this, the way she reacts to it isn’t okay. ‘You want to scratch me when I swallow. Did you know that it hurts me when you do that? What happens to you when I say that?’ Do this in a calm, loving, strong way so she can feel like you’ve ‘got this’.

Your daughter’s response is something she does to ease her anxiety around whatever is happening for her when you swallow. People only do what works. Sometimes it doesn’t work very well or it isn’t the best option, but the key to changing a behaviour lies in understanding the purpose it’s serving, even if it’s not serving that purpose particularly well.

It might be useful to explain that sometimes our brain can have us responding to things as though they’re dangerous, even though they’re not, and explain this in terms of the fight or flight response. The explanation is here https://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-in-kids/ . Then let her know that brains can change – they do all the time, even in adults.

Again, only do this if it’s in line with what her therapists are already doing. The worst thing would be to cut across a plan that they’re working on. There are many ways to deal with this sort of thing – this is just one idea but the therapists working with your daughter might have other ideas that are as effective or more effective, so it’s important to be guided by them.

This is a difficult issue – for her and for you. There won’t be any quick fix but there will be a way to manage it so it doesn’t get worse and in time can stop getting in her way. You’ve done the right thing with the support you’ve found for her. I hope she (and you!) are able to find some comfort. Much love and strength to you.

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Y2chaotic

Thank you for this article. I have an anxious child and am anxious myself, and it is a fairly constant struggle to be the bastion of calm. 🙂

Your point about “letting value be the driver” stopped me in my tracks, in the best possible way. One of our struggles, I realized, is really about Trust. About trusting me to try something when he’s in distress. An outsider might view his behavior when he’s upset as “he’s being stubborn,” but perhaps he’s just protecting himself, and not feeling able to trust me to lead him through a rough patch without losing face. I need to turn inward and figure out how I can be more “safe” to him, to be consistent and loving and steady enough, and clear enough in my love and support….

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Hey Sigmund

You’re welcome. Living with anxiety isn’t easy – whether it’s yours, someone else’s or both. You’re observation in relation to your son is really insightful and it sounds spot on to me. It sounds as though you understand exactly what he needs.

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Vancat

Thanks for this great article, though I do have to say you lost me in the use of time outs – perhaps you didn’t mean to frame it in a punitive way (leave my presence until you calm yourself down, and do this all alone), but it seems very inconsistent with your overall relationship-safe, developmental approach to helping children process and work through their feelings with the help of caring adults. I’m just curious if you could extrapolate on your recommendation for sending children away to have a time out, to deal with their big feelings alone (and in the process, face them into separation, a source of even more deep alarm?)

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Hey Sigmund

Thanks for raising the issue – it’s an important one. I think time out is often framed as punishment and I don’t believe it should be. The words in the article are, ‘If the calm doesn’t come, move your child to time out and let him or her know that you’re there when they’re ready to settle down.’ It’s not about ‘sending them away’ or punishing them. The language is around getting back control, calming down, ‘take some time and I’m here when you’re ready’. It’s not said angrily or disapprovingly. Time out here is something done lovingly and firmly – not as punishment or with any shame attached. Use a firm, loving tone and firm, loving language – ‘I know you’re upset right now and I want to help you but I can’t do that until you’ve calmed down. Take some time and I’m here when you’re ready.’

You’re giving them the ability to control the consequences. You’re not keeping them in time out indefinitely, you’re not even keeping them there for a fixed time. As soon as they’re calm, they can come out. They have control. You’re still letting them know that you’re there, you’re available, you want to talk about it, you still love them, but nothing can happen until they calm down – because that’s the truth of it. One of our jobs as parents is to provide the opportunities for our kids to learn important skills or lessons. This is one of them. Otherwise, what happens when they get angry or upset at kindy or pre-school when you’re not there, if they haven’t been given the opportunity to learn to calm themselves down, at least to a point where they’re not completely out of control?

Of course, the first few times you do this, they’ll likely chase you. Just keep putting them gently back to where they need to be with the same message that you can’t help them until they’ve calmed down. Eventually they get there.

It’s such an important skill for kids to learn to calm themselves. We’re all going to get angry and want to scream at the world, but we can’t do that. The idea of self control is getting the self under control – not having someone else getting you under control. It’s important that kids are given the opportunities to learn and practice this. An out of control toddler is manageable – an out of control teen isn’t.

We’re not talking about time out for being sad, cranky, mad. Time out as discussed here is for when they are out of control – so out of control that there’s just nothing you can do. They’re not listening, they’re not responding. If you give them the idea that out of control tantruming, screaming, yelling is appropriate and that you’ll stay during that and support them through it, you’re giving them the idea that the world will do the same. The world won’t. The world will walk away, and often not come back.

With time out, it’s about space. You don’t have to take them far away. You don’t even have to take them somewhere they can’t see you. Sometimes it’s just you walking to the other side of the room. You’re just giving them space to settle with the message that they have to do something about this. The other lesson of course is that of respect. If they want people to listen and be there to talk about things and hear their point of view, the best way to make that happen is to act in such a way that makes that possible.

I hope this helps. I understand this can be a confusing issue. Keep in mind the main teaching. In this case it’s self control and it’s important to create opportunities to learn and practice this – but there is no reason this needs to be done angrily or with any shaming attached.

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Shelley

This ia an awesome article, actually all of them that I have read thus far have been great, I work for a school board and Im a full time foster parents , working with inner city and hard to serve youth so each article has helped tremendously. I would love to have some pamphlets to give to our parents if at all possible as well, could you recommend any place or sources I could gather some together. Thank you for taking the time to help us with our younger generation. Much appreciated.

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heysigmund

I’m so pleased you’ve enjoyed the articles. As for the pamphlets, I can’t tell where you’re from but I would first try the national anxiety organisation (if it’s anxiety info you’re after) in your country. Most countries have one. Otherwise, if you want to print out the articles on the website, the green button on the pop-up at the side of the article is a print button and it prints the article in the right format and set out. Thank you for taking the time to make contact. It’s such important work you’re doing. The kids are lucky to have you.

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Annie

Thanks for your wonderful and helpful article! Bravo! I have one addition: It is very helpful if parents practice mindfulness meditation every day too because one of the most powerful ways to support a child who is anxious is to be as grounded as you can possibly be. And that is hard to fake!

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Erin

Thank you for this! It has been very helpful for me as I prepare for our upcoming school IEP meeting. Our 7 y/o son’s anxiety at school when not supported in the ways you have outlined is often misinterpreted as willful and “naughty” behavior. This has really harmed his self confidence and peer interactions at school. I hope to find more articles here on anxiety and how to best advocate at school for young anxious children if possible.

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heysigmund

You’re welcome! I’m pleased the information has found its way to you at the right time. You’re right – anxiety in young kids can be misinterpreted. It’s great that you’re giving your son a voice. Parents are awesome. All the best for you IEP meeting.

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Judith

I have a 4-year-old highly sensitive child, and anxiety is a HUGE part of that. This post really rang true for me – thank you for sharing. Dealing with her emotion first has been a difficult but important lesson – because nothing can be achieved when emotions are high. And trying to be calm (I tell myself, I’m the adult, I can control my emotions better than she can) when she is not also has been a huge key for us.

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Wendy Haymes

Excellent Article. My daughter is 16 and displaying anger & very controlling/physical behaviour to her friends & family. From reading this I realise I have to go back to basics with her in an age appropriate way. I understand ‘why’ but I do struggle with the ‘how’. Thank you for posting this.

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heysigmund

You’re very welcome. 16 can be a confusing age isn’t it – not quite an adult, not quite a child – frustrating for them and difficult for us as parents to know what to do with that frustration. Here is an article specific to teens, which might help https://www.heysigmund.com/parenting-adolescent-11-insights-will-make-difference/ . I’m sure that during adolescence they need to know more than ever how much we love them, even if they work hard to convince us otherwise! Your daughter is lucky to have you.

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Karen King

Your advice is spot on. Sharing it with my daughter – and with the parents I work with as a school psychologist!

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Anna

Thank you. I have just started receiving your mail and it is very helpful. My five year old daughter is a beautiful bundle of sensitive nervousness and love. She is pushing her boundaries at the moment, a little, but I have to be so carefull with discipline. She can be very easy to upset. But I have to admit to finding it very difficult treading the line of sensitivity and knowing when to step back so that she can find that confidence. This information really helps, thanks 🙂

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heysigmund

You’re so welcome. I’m pleased the information has found its way to you. The sensitivity you have to what you daughter needs comes through loud and clear. It’s wonderful. You’ll be a great team.

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Bob Brandt

I don’t have kids, but I’m interested, so I read what seems to be intelligent that I come across about kids. As I was reading your article, I found myself thinking about some favorite married couples who, unfortunately, tend to react to one another like kids rather than treating one another as if the other were a kid. The article translates easily to be a piece for anybody wanting to show and develop love — to anyone. Nice work!

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heysigmund

Yes! That’s so insightful. I hadn’t thought of it like that but that makes so much sense. Whether kids or adults – at the end of the day we’re all human and we want the same things – to be heard, loved, respected and to feel connected to the people who are important to us. Thank you for taking the time to share this!

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Kiersten

I’m a recent subscriber to your newsletter and am finding it to provide incredible insight and invaluable information, thank you! We have a son, 12, diagnosed with GAD and it proves to be so challenging at times. Through help provided by his therapist and reading books and articles like the ones you provide, I’m finding it easier to understand his needs and how better to parent him. He’s an amazing kid who is working through his anxiety and his dad and I are committed to helping him get there….

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heysigmund

You’re very welcome. Your son will develop great insights and wisdom from his experience that will hold him well as he moves into adulthood. You and his dad sound like a wonderful support for him. Keep doing what you’re doing. Thank you for taking the time to make contact.

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Rob

The tools you offer are very helpful. As a grandparent I feel at times I’m expected to know all the right answers to child raising when as a grandparent I see the things I did right and wrong by how my children raise theirs. At times when I see something that mirrors my inadequate parenting I mention it as a point of note is all. When I see the good things I just smile.

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Eve

Thank you for another spot on article about child anxiety, I can take so many elements on board in parenting my 5 yr old daughter who is anxious, emotional and sensitive, but bright loving, fun and caring. I’ve come to realise that a ‘one fix for all’ parenting approach does not work with her, and a calm but consistent approach with lots of love and reassurance works better. I enjoy reading your articles as I have so much to learn and I want to understand how to help her grow into a confident and happy young girl. Thank you.

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heysigmund

You’re so welcome. What a beautiful bundle you have there with your daughter. It’s one of the hardest things about parenting, isn’t it, that lack of a one-size-fits-all formula! It’s sounds like over the five years of loving your daughter you’ve figured out what works best. She’ll keep teaching you amazing things – it’s great that you’re open to it. Thank you for taking the time to make contact (and I love that you’re enjoying the articles!).

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Michelle

This article was VERY helpful. We are seeing major anxiety and mood swings with our 10 year old since my father passed away. She has always been a perfectionist and anxious and now it is doubled. I am a type A perfectionist and I have had to really dial it down around her. My husband saw a post of yours about children with anxiety. We found it helpful and so I liked your FB page. I am so glad that I did because then you posted this article! Thank you!

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heysigmund

You’re so welcome. I’m so pleased the information has found its way to you. I’m sorry to hear that your daughter is having a difficult time. It sounds as though between you and your husband she’s in wonderful hands. I hope she’s able to find some comfort. Thank you for taking the time to make contact.

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Robin

This is the second article I’ve read on kids with anxiety and I find it very helpful and can apply to adults who suffer from chronic anxiety like myself so thank you for the valuable counsel and keep writing 🙂 I’m going to post this article on FB also.

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Aruna

Good write up. Always model the behavior you want your child to show. It also helps to respond to bad behavior than REACT. Play it cool. 🙂

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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