Emotions

Q: “My Anxious Child Is Convinced She Can’t Do Hard Things.”

“Anxiety is good at making us believe that we can’t handle what comes our way. The best way to convince your child that she can do hard things is not by telling her, but by showing her.”

Mother Comforting Child Sitting on Sofa in Living Room. Mom and Son Talking of Problems, Parent Character Support and Embrace Boy. Loving Relations, Parenting. Cartoon People Vector Illustration
Mother Comforting Child Sitting on Sofa in Living Room. Mom and Son Talking of Problems, Parent Character Support and Embrace Boy. Loving Relations, Parenting. Cartoon People Vector Illustration

Q: “My anxious child often worries that she can’t handle new or difficult situations. How do I convince her otherwise?”


Anxiety is good at making us believe that we can’t handle what comes our way. The best way to convince your child that she can do hard things is not by telling her, but by showing her.

1. What Can You Handle?

What “showing” means will depend on the situation, but it will almost always mean breaking the seemingly insuperable situation or task into smaller parts. Let’s assume your child is filled with anxiety over an essay that is due. She might be telling herself that she’ll never be able to finish the assignment. But essays are made up of paragraphs, which are made up of sentences. And those sentences are made up of words and letters. We want to shift your child’s focus from the top of the hill to all the small but important steps needed to get there.

[Take This Self-Test: Could Your Child Have Anxiety?]

We also want to emphasize that not all the steps have to be perfect. Can she type/write her name at the top of the page? Can she create something of an outline? Can she write the first sloppy sentence? The essay will soon come together before her eyes.

2.What Have You Accomplished?

It’s also a good idea to remind your child of the things they successfully do now that they had to learn from scratch. (Anxiety has a way of making us forget our successes but remember every failure.) A Venn diagram works well for this visual.

List successes – like learning to read, to ride a two-wheeled bike, to play a video game, etc. – in the right circle. Use a pen for these skills to emphasize permanence. In the circle all the way to the left, use sticky notes (they emphasize impermanence) to write hard things. Then, move those sticky notes to the middle – the “learning” section. Once your child feels successful, she can move that skill to the success section.

3. There Goes Anxiety Again!

Externalizing anxiety and its “henchmen” can also help your child detach from anxious thoughts and recognize its many forms. In her case, “Permanent Paula,” one of anxiety’s henchmen, is pulling her into the thinking trap of “I’ll never be able to do this.

[Read: Shake Loose of Your Limiting Beliefs – a Guide for Teens with ADHD]

4. Carry a Tone of Confidence

Be sure to validate your child’s feelings and the real effect anxious thoughts are having over her. At the same time, convey your confidence in her ability to handle her fears and exist with discomfort. If she’s nervous about going to school because x, y, or z might happen, you can say, “Yeah, that sounds so difficult. And anxiety isn’t making it easier, I know. But you let me know how your school day goes when you get home, OK?”

Anxious Child Doing Hard Things: Next Steps

The content for this article was derived, in part, from the ADDitude ADHD Experts webinar titled, “Anxiety in Children: Overlooked Signs and Effective Supports” [Video Replay & Podcast #401],” with Caroline Buzanko, Ph.D., which was broadcast on May 19, 2022.


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