Helping Your Child with Anxiety
Tips from Experts

Here are some words of wisdom from expert therapists about helping kids manage anxiety

Show Empathy and Compassion (but not hopelessness)
  • It is important acknowledge, listen to, and re-state or paraphrase their fears to show that you understand what is causing them to feel distressed.
Normalize Anxiety
  • Use pictures of people showing different expressions (e.g., from magazines or books), both facial and entire body, that reflect different emotions and discuss the feelings each person might be experiencing (include anxious expressions among other expressions like sadness, frustration, disappointment, excitement, etc.).
  • Use a real-life hero or a fantasy superhero the child has identified, and reflect on how this figure felt anxious but coped and overcame the challenge.
Anxiety is maintained through avoidance and withdrawal: the goal is to encourage approach and minimize avoidance. Show empathy and compassion, but don’t support avoidance. Sometimes it helps to explain that “When we are anxious, it can feel like a bear chasing us through the woods.”
  • Our heart beats fast, we may start to sweat – our body is getting us ready to run because it thinks there’s DANGER!
  • And, we react as if a bear is chasing us – we do what we think will make us feel safe.
  • The problem in anxiety?  We are reacting to an emergency that isn’t there. It’s a FALSE ALARM!
  • Parents react too – they may begin to believe that that there is real danger because their kids have such a strong reaction.  
  • We need to re-learn that these feelings DO NOT EQUAL danger!

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Externalize the anxiety 

For example, anxiety is like a hungry puppy…the more you feed it (with avoidance), the larger it gets.
Anxiety is like a bully: Boss back the bully! (March & Mulle, 1998)
  • Challenge the anxiety with behavioral experiments, not arguments
  1. When anxiety tells us to do something (avoid), we:
  2. Ignore the demand
  3. Do the opposite (lean into anxiety)
  4. Do the “wrong” thing (mess with anxiety)
  • When we stop responding to anxiety, it will get quieter and quieter and will become a less demanding part of our lives.  
Adopt a “Coaching” Style
  • Parents order or demand; coaches train
  • Focus your child or teen on what they know and successes from the past
  • Ask, “What are some ways we can solve this problem?” rather than solving the problem for them.
  • Reward (e.g., praise) all efforts of approach, not only the ones with positive outcomes

How to construct a hierarchy of “behavioral experiments”

  • If your child is having trouble thinking of situations that are difficult , you can suggest some ideas …“could you have been anxious about ___, is that something you would like to overcome?”
  • Be prepared, and be confident. That is, anticipate  what features of the situation are distressing and have ideas in mind for addressing them. Be encouraging and supportive--exude confidence: it’s amazing how youth will “give it a go” with the right preparation. Your style can influence your child’s willingness to be involved. The exposure tasks are never punitive.
  • Your child’s involvement is critical. Increase involvement by soliciting your child’s suggestions and use them when planning the exposure tasks. You can suggest ideas, but include your child’s opinions on how to make the exposure doable.
  • The plan may need to be changed to reflect changes in the level of anxiety that is generated in the different situations. Some degree of adjustment is expected.
  • Do not “battle” with your child. If your child is resistant to participate, be patient. Also, you can work with them to modify the current plan a bit or generate an alternative practice situation that is a tad easier and doable. Although some negotiation is acceptable, it is important not to allow your child to avoid genuine experience.

Take care of yourself!

  • You may need to manage your own anxiety. Learn to recognize your our triggers.
  • Find strategies to cope and problem solve and model the use of these strategies for your child
  • Take care of your needs! You need to have energy and positivity to be in the best shape to help your child, so try to make sure you have calm time to be thoughtful and  get support as needed.

Symptom Checker

If you’re not sure where to start, take a moment to complete our “Symptom Checker”. Our symptom checker allows you to click on the symptoms that are consistent with what you’re seeing in your child and provides personalized feedback on your child’s symptom status and recommendations for next steps.  
By answering a few short questions, you will get some feedback about which categories to learn more about next.

Child Anxiety Tales

The Child Anxiety Tales program is an online parent-training program designed to equip parents with skills and strategies they’ll need to help their children better manage anxiety. The program is based on the latest evidence in the treatment of child anxiety and on cognitive-behavioral principals shown to be effective in helping anxious youth. Child Anxiety Tales is an interactive and engaging program that can be completed at your own pace from the privacy and convenience of your own computer. It is not a treatment but an online educational program for parents. 
Click below to view a demo or to learn more: