Parenting An Anxious Child: 10 Tips to Raise a Brave Child

10 Tips to Move Your Child From Fear & Anxiety to Bravery 

1.  Validate your child’s emotional pain and discomfort.  It may seem like your child is freaking out about "nothing" when, for example, they enter full tantrum mode to avoid being dropped off at a birthday party but to your child this is a tremendous deal.  Think how bad it has felt in your own life when you were upset about something and someone responded to you and your pain with a sentiment such as “it is not such a big deal…you are fine.”  How did you feel in that moment? We have all experienced the one two punch of experiencing emotional pain and then beating ourselves up for having that pain.  Give your child the gift of learning to recognize and acknowledge when they are experiencing emotional distress.  Explaining a phenomena is not the same thing as “making an excuse”.  Nonjudgmentally acknowledging when we are experiencing emotional distress is the first step in learning how to move through the unavoidable moments of suffering that are built into the human experience.

2.  Educate yourself about “the body on anxiety”.  The discomfort your child experiences when they are in “anxiety mode” is real. Their brain’s fear response system (otherwise known as fight, flight, freeze) has been triggered and your child is now experiencing all of the physiological changes to their body that would occur in a true emergency. Their heart rate and breathing is increasing, blood flow is moving from their small muscles to their big muscles that are associated with fleeing, such as their arms and legs, their pupils are dilating to allow the to see all potentially dangers more clearly, etc.  All of these physiologically changes would be quite helpful if they were in a real emergency.  Thankfully, they are not in a true emergency when experiencing the false alarm of anxiety, but it feels to them like they are.

3.  You can validate your child’s discomfort without buying into the “doom and gloom” predictions made by their anxious brain.  Along with the physiological changes that occur when the “anxiety switch” has been flipped, comes a change in thinking patterns.  The world shifts from seeming predictable and safe to unpredictable and dangerous.  Opportunities for failure, death and other unfortunate outcomes seem ever present.  Just because your child believes that terrible things are likely to occur does not make it true.  Access your “wise mind” when your child is unable to access theirs. 

4.  Believe in the strength of your child. They cannot break. Anxiety is not dangerous and cannot hurt them, but avoiding life and age-appropriate experiences can. You don't need to shield them from life's challenges.

5.  Model vulnerability. It is not only OK, but powerfully healing to share with them when you are struggling and scared. Struggling and fear are part of the human experience and they will learn it is all OK.

6.  Create a family culture that nurtures taking chances and learning from mistakes over perfectionism. As an exercise, you can go around the dinner table and each take turns sharing one way you took a chance today.  By highlighting meeting challenges head on you are reinforcing bravery over avoidance based behaviors.  This family exercise emphasizes how it is the journey of learning and experiencing life that truly matters, not the outcome of achieving or winning.

7.  Teach your child how to identify when the "worry monster" has surfaced and is attempting to call the shots.  It is incredibly helpful to come up with kid friendly language to help your child make sense of their anxiety.  In our first few sessions with a child struggling with anxiety, we name and draw a picture of their “worry monster”.  Some names my wonderful, brave little clients have come up with are: worry bully, “IT”, Bob, Mr. Annoying, to name just a few.  The function of this exercise is to assist your child in more objectively viewing their worries and fears vs. Seeing the world through their anxieties and fears.  Once we learn how to identify when the “worry monster” has surfaced, we can next learn how to talk back and disengage from its taunts and negative predictions.

8.   Pick your battles. You can't work on everything at one time. Determine the fear-based behaviors that are most negatively impacting your child and your family, and create specific plans on how to address these behaviors. By trying to address everything, you will end up addressing nothing.

9.     Learn to identify when your own “worry monster” has surfaced.  Don't believe your own fears and worries that try to predict how much suffering your child will go through when they experience moments of anxiety. Although you may have experienced anxiety in your own life, it is no real indication of how it will go for your child. Kids are incredibly adaptable, who learn quickly that that the best way past anxiety is through it.  By facing one fear at a time, your child will quickly learn how brave, strong, and confident they truly are.  

10.  It is OK to get anxiety coaching from the sidelines. Therapy does not have to be a long-term complicated endeavor.  There is effective, empirically supported short-term therapy available to assist your child and family when stuck and overwhelmed.  

For assistance in parenting an anxious child, feel free to contact Dr. Debra Kissen ( to obtain additional information or to schedule an appointment.