Helping Your Anxious Child Thrive

Q: While most of the neighborhood kids are outside after school, soaking up the sunshine, my daughter is inside copying her notes for school, over and over again. If a letter is not perfect, she must do it again. She has even mentioned that she sometimes writes over a whole sentence because she had a scary thought while writing it. I keep going over the parenting that I gave her and wonder where did I go wrong? What could I have done differently so that my child would be more carefree?


Guilt- ridden Mom


A: After years of treating children with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and other anxiety disorders, it is apparent that children are born with predispositions to anxiety and even the best of parenting won’t necessarily prevent it. Most of the children I treat come from healthy homes and started showing signs of anxiety at a young age. Knowing this, our job as parents is to help our children cope with their anxiety. Often, a child will benefit from professional help with a CBT therapist to learn how to manage their anxiety and face their fears, although there is a lot parents can do to create a healthy atmosphere for their anxious child.

Most children with anxiety are afraid to make mistakes and feel that they need to do things perfectly. Phrases like ‘practice makes perfect’ need to be replaced with phrases like ‘practice makes better’ and ‘good enough’. Mistakes can become valued as part of the process of living and growing.

Rewarding the effort rather than the results is important as well. Growth for all of us involves going out of our comfort zone. Share with your child your own experiences in which you’ve done this, and gently encourage your child to take small steps outside of theirs. (This should not be forced or against your child’s will. Your child needs to be a willing participant.) Remind your child that bravery is not the absence of fear, rather it is feeling the fear and doing it anyways.

Lastly, when a child has a fear, reassurance usually doesn’t provide lasting results. Suggest to your child that they are stronger than they think, and they can handle uncomfortable situations. Problem-solve with them what they would do if their fear materializes.

Q: My 12-year -old son’s Rebbe tells me what a tzaddik he is. He davens each word super clearly, he never says no when others ask him for snack, and is the first to apologize when there is an argument with a friend. Yesterday, I observed him playing ball with friends and he kept calling himself out, even when he didn’t appear to be out. Am I raising a tzaddik, or is there a problem here that needs to be addressed?


Concerned Dad


A: He may indeed be a tzaddik, but there also may be a problem that needs to be addressed.  If you suspect that there is something to work on here, there likely is. Have a talk with your son, coming from a place of curiosity. Ask him about davening. Does he ever feel that if he doesn’t get every word perfect his davening won’t count? Does he enjoy sharing snack with his friends all the time? Or does he feel too guilty saying no? Does he apologize, even when he believes he’s right, because it’s uncomfortable for him being in conflict with a friend? Does he call himself out in ball, even when he in fact may not be out, as he does not want to risk being dishonest? Is he enjoying life or finding it really stressful to live up to the standards he has set for himself? Remember, your job is to gather information, not to judge your child’s responses. Once you have the information you can decide where to go from there.

As parents we need to remind ourselves that Hashem hand-picked us to parent this child. We are the best shot our child has to succeed in meeting their particular challenge. We do the best we can, seeking advice when needed. Our job is not to raise perfect children, but to help our children on their journey towards actualizing their potential and utilizing their G-d given gifts, one day at a time.


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