Stress can cause kids anxiety. This anxiety can get in the way of their schoolwork, and, more importantly, their happiness.
Which makes parents anxious too. Luckily, there’s a solution.
Here are six tips for coping when you have an anxious child:
1. Be kind to yourself
Beating yourself up for worrying only makes you more anxious. You’re human and you love your kids, so you are stressed about their success. That’s totally normal—it’s good! It’s way better than the alternative of not caring.
So if your anxiety pops up in some way you regret later, give yourself a break. Recognize that you want to improve, and that’s a great first step. Think about how you can do better next time and pat yourself on the back for coming up with a strategy to improve your parenting!
Change takes time. Give yourself a little reward (maybe a pat on the back, a kind thought, or a piece of chocolate) every time you do a bit better in those particularly stressful moments.
When your kids see you being kind to yourself when you mess up, (even better: talk to them about it!), they will start to learn it’s okay to not be perfect and they will start being kinder to themselves too.
2. Teach your kids self-calming techniques
Here are a few suggestions for daily self-calming techniques you can practice with your kids:
- Meditation. I love guided meditation because it helps me feel like I’m meditating correctly. Before I used an app, I would actually stress out during meditation that I was doing it wrong! Now, I use an app called (but there are tons of options out there) for only 10 minutes a day and I don’t judge myself. I’ve been doing it for about two years now. What I’ve found is it’s much easier for me to recognize when my heart rate starts to rise and to think about taking a breath to calm myself down. For younger kids, there’s a great book with a CD called to help get them into meditation.
- Yoga. I practice yoga with my 3-year-old nephew. He loves showing off what he can do and hissing when he does his “Cobra” pose.
- Hot chocolate and chat. Start a new habit. When your child gets home from school, have some hot chocolate ready and just sit in a cozy spot together and talk about anything—what to do this weekend, what movies she wants to see—anything not related to school that’s all about her interests. If your child is younger, maybe use the time to read a book together. This gives your child a moment to reset after a long day at school before diving into homework or back into the stresses of social media.
3. Break the negative thought cycle
Often with anxiety, we can get caught up in catastrophic thinking. If this project isn’t perfect, I’ll get a B in this class, and you need straight A’s to even be considered for the colleges I want to go to. I’m never getting into college! I’m not smart enough!
When you see your child starting to struggle like this, try to talk through their thinking and gently question those catastrophic thoughts.
For the example above, you can start with, “Oh dear. I’m sorry this is so hard! How many points is it worth?” Follow that up with other questions that start to correct his conclusion that he’s never getting into college.
4. Improve empathy
According to Michele Borba, author of , “The ability to empathize affects our kids’ future health, wealth, authentic happiness, relationship satisfaction, and ability to bounce back from adversity.” Empathy improves our relationships and relationships are one of the antidotes to stress because they provide support.
A couple quick ways to work on increasing your kids’ empathy:
- When you feel strongly about something, perhaps while watching a movie, talk about it. This will help your kids to start thinking about their own feelings and eventually the feelings of others.
- Come up with a family motto, such as “We are kind” or “We are brave” and at dinner talk about how you showed your family trait that day.
5. Reframe your vision of “success”
Going to the right college, getting the right job, making the right amount of money—that all sounds good, but if your kids aren’t happy, are they really thriving? And isn’t that what we want for our kids? For them to thrive?
Instead of worrying if your kid is a B student, help her find and pursue passions that are meaningful.
For instance, if she loves animals, buy her books about animals, get involved with the local animal shelter, and encourage her to figure out what she can do to make life better for animals.. By pursuing passions, kids will find meaningful work they love, and they will thrive.
6. Find time to play
Education reformist and author of Tony Wagner explains that finding passions comes through play. Play also gives your kids a break during the day—time for their brains to relax and for them to enjoy themselves. Giving your kids the gift of play can help protect them from too much stress.
There are lots of reasons kids are anxious. You can help ease their anxiety by being a calm role model they can look up to for inspiration.