5 Steps to Respond to Your Child’s Worries

How to best respond to our children’s worries and anxiety is one of the questions I’m asked most often. In this month’s Northeast Ohio Parent’s article, I dive into the topic of reassurance.

To recap quickly, there are two types of reassurance: productive reassurance and unproductive reassurance. Productive reassurance is when you give your child the information needed to resolve their problem, and the issue is done. That kind of reassurance is helpful, because it relieves their anxiety. The issue is no longer an issue. Unproductive reassurance doesn’t resolve anything and can often increase anxiety. When you truly cannot predict the outcome, pretending that you can is unproductive. For example, let’s say your child is worried that all her friends are mad at her. Simply telling your child that no one is mad at her isn’t helpful. What if they are mad at her?

Here I’d like to give you 5 steps to respond in a way that will help teach your child to be comfortable being uncomfortable (a difficult lesson even for adults).

  1. Notice you and your child’s behaviors. Awareness is the first step.
  2. Determine if you’re giving (or if your child is seeking) unproductive reassurance.
  3. Recognize where and when this is happening. Your child is battling worry of some sort.
  4. Make sure you know the language of worry and anxiety. This will give you the foundation you need.
  5. Get clear in your own mind before you try to respond to them about how you want to respond. You want to convey that they’re really uncomfortable with how not knowing FEELS (remember that uncertainty is a feeling, not a fact), so your job is to help them ride out the feeling.

Our job as parents is to build their tolerance for feeling uncomfortable and assure our children they can handle it — it will pass, like every other feeling. This isn’t about distracting. It’s about allowing the feeling to be there and still choosing to behave AS IF they were comfortable.