Assisting parents with managing overly anxious children – Part Five


Assisting parents with managing overly anxious children – Part Five

A model for supporting children with anxiety  

Taking stock of our own model of thinking and actions

Awareness of generational transfer – excessive anxiety often occurs across generations and influences the thinking, emotions and actions of parents.  These children are prone to rigid expectations, unwillingness to tolerate frustration and negative self-evaluation and generalization.  Parents, in their efforts to “make the child feel better”, often enable and reward excessive anxiety by treating it as a real reflection of reality.

A starting point is to acknowledge the child’s efforts to maintain his current level of functioning.

Listening skills 

Acceptance of the child’s feelings 

  • Restating the cognitive content of the child’s perception of the stressor.
  • Acknowledgement of the child’s current needs
  • Show understanding and acceptance, but not excessive sympathy.
  • Acknowledgement means: I can see that you’re feeling X, because you are thinking Y”.


Do not:

  • Make the problem yours
  • Provide solutions and advice
  • Over-accommodate
  • Make fun of a child’s distress
  • Scold child for its anxiety
  • Judge
  • Minimize the problem
  • Change the normal practices and routines
  • Do not bribe child to mask the distress.
  • Interrogate the child as to the “cause”.



  • Provide a specific guideline and a clearly defined and limited support process that continues despite heightened discomfort
  • Example: “I know that you fear going to school because you think that the children do not want to play with you (Acknowledgement), but today is a school day (guideline) and I will be taking the following steps to get you to school.” 


Aids & resources 

  • Rituals (bedtime and morning): These are actions coupled with open-ended suggestions that assist the child in enduring discomfort. Ex: “When I say goodbye at the school I will give you a hug (Action) and you WILL KNOW that in a while from now, you will calm down and be able to enjoy break (suggestion)” . Provide rituals within a set structure.
  •  Teach the child relaxation techniques: breathing in slowly through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, relax muscles as you breathe out, visualise a relaxing memory or activity.


Preparation & anticipation 

  • Do not avoid upsetting the child by withholding potentially distressing information.  Talk about upcoming events at school and in the family – restate acknowledgement and structure of the upcoming event.
  • Remind the child of previous brave things he has done. Highlight the child’s skills to achieve a positive outcome.
  • Don’t let him dwell on fears or imagination of what might happen.
  • Setting achievable goals. Example: If the child is having three outbursts per week, request the child not to have more than 4. This sets him up for success.
  • Develop sense of strategy
  • Rehearse


Following through 

  • Once acknowledgement and structure has been provided, do not alter your plan of action, even if the child becomes overly anxious.
  • Act as efficiently and business-like as possible.


Affirming the child’s capacity 

  • Let the child know that he can come up with a plan or with possible alternatives.  Do not provide ready solutions or intervene unless completely unavoidable.
  • By removing the child from the situation one would reinforce a feeling of hopelessness and incompetence.
  • Help the child assess and implement options.  Be supportive throughout this process.


Encouraging emotional fitness 

  • Be willing to let your child experience frustration / grief / anger.  Teach him to get comfortable with discomfort. Help the child assess, implement and adjust options.
  • Rewards any efforts that heighten competence, while dealing neutrally with any stressful situation. The child needs to experience that, although he is anxious, his parents are not and they retain control of the situation.
  • Avoid star charts and other reward systems that put pressure on the child to stop feeling the way he does. Rather show immediate positive appreciation for any of the child’s efforts intended to either stabilise or improve his situation.
  • Randomly reward successful coping and point out the specific behaviours / attitudes that contributed to better coping. Ignore the occurrence of non-coping behaviour in between good days.