When children are chronically anxious, even the most well-meaning parents can utter words that exacerbate, instead of alleviate, anxious feelings. Non-anxious parents have the benefit of time, wisdom, and reasoning on their sides, and this can lead to statements that unknowingly dismiss the child’s anxious feelings.

It can be very difficult to watch a child struggle with anxiety, but the goal of the parent is to help the child learn to tolerate and cope with the feelings, not to try to remove all potential triggers of anxiety from the child’s life.

It’s essential for parents to remain calm and positive when confronting a child’s anxiety. While a parent should not attempt to “fix” the anxiety, kids do take their cues from their parents. The way you respond to their anxious thoughts and behaviors can set them up for successful coping or increased anxiety.

With that in mind, avoid using these 10 phrases when your child verbalizes anxious thoughts and feelings (or engages in anxious behaviors):

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Don’t worry.

You can’t will away your child’s anxiety by telling him not to worry. He’s already worried. This statement implies that the worries are unreasonable or unacceptable. A better approach is: Can you tell me more about your worries?

It’s no big deal.

Anxious children know that their worries are a big deal. Their worries can negatively affect peer relationships, family relationships, school performance, and other areas of functioning. That’s a big deal. Try this, instead: I can see that you’re feeling very anxious about this. Let’s do some deep breathing together.

You’ll be fine.

Anyone who has ever experienced excessive anxiety or a panic attack knows that “fine” is not something that resonates with an anxious mind. When a child’s anxious mind is racing, he doesn’t feel anything close to “fine”. Reassure your child with this phrase: I am here to help you.

There’s nothing to be afraid of.

Anxious kids have plenty to fear: Judgment, peer rejection, failure, and the list goes on. You can’t stamp out anxiety with a quick phrase. You can help ease the fears by opening the door to a conversation: Let’s talk about that together.

You just need to sleep more!

One of the difficult parts of childhood anxiety is that it makes getting to bed difficult. A worried mind tends to race at night when the busyness of the day finally slows down. This isn’t your child’s fault. Try this: Let’s do a meditation app together before bed to help us relax into sleep.

I’ll do it.

Anxious kids want to confront their worries and be more independent, but anxious thoughts often get in the way. This can lead exasperated parents down the path of “fixing” and “doing”. That doesn’t help the child build coping skills, though. Use this positive phrase to help your child work through an anxious moment: I know you feel anxious but I know you can do this. I am here to support you.

It’s all in your head.

Anxiety is a brain-based disorder, but dismissing it in this manner shames the anxious child, increasing feelings of guilt. Use this helpful phrase, instead: It sounds like your worry brain is really loud right now, let’s take a walk together and calm that worry brain down.

Hurry up!

Anxious kids tend to move at a snail’s pace. While some get caught in the trap of perfectionism, others are burdened with feelings of regret when making decisions. Telling them to hurry up only increases feelings of guilt and helplessness. Ask a simple question to help your child move along: How can I help?

Stop thinking about it.

Trust me, your child would love to stop thinking anxious thoughts. The problem is that it’s very difficult to interrupt the anxious thought cycle without proper supports in place. Try this: Let’s talk back to that worry brain by telling it positive stuff!

I don’t know what you need.

Parenting an anxious child is very difficult and often downright exhausting. Your child needs you to remain calm and hopeful in the face of anxiety, though. If you express hopelessness, your child’s anxiety will spike. Try this phrase: Let’s brainstorm ways to help calm our minds right now.

It takes time and practice to learn to cope with anxiety. Your child doesn’t mean to cling, ask the same questions over and over, or fall apart in the school parking lot. Anxiety makes all of these things (and more) happen for many kids every single day. Seek outside help to get your child the tools he needs to learn to cope and do your best to respond with empathy and compassion when he comes to you with his worries.

 

Last Updated: Sep 26, 2018