How to Reassure a Worried Child

“When it comes to feelings of safety and security at home, nothing is more powerful for a child than a sense that the grownups in his life are ‘OK.'” How to send healthy signals that alleviate worry and stress.

Parent with a worried child with ADHD blowing bubbles to relieve stress
Parent with ADHD child blowing bubbles

Jackson’s mother brought him to my office because he had suddenly started acting out at night and seemed preoccupied. In an attempt to unravel the puzzle, Jackson and I played some games, drew pictures, and talked about his “worry monster.”

“Well,” he said, “I’m not sure if my mom and dad are getting a divorce.” I was surprised to hear this concern, and I asked his mother how things were going in the marriage. She assured me that she and her husband were doing well.

After further discussion, she mentioned that Jackson’s best friend’s parents had recently divorced. It seemed that visits to his friend’s house, along with a rushed schedule and an argument his parents had recently had, made Jackson a worried child.

When it comes to feelings of safety and security at home, nothing is more powerful for a child than a sense that the grownups in his life are “OK.” Children can easily mistake off-handed comments and certain circumstances in their lives as forecasts of doom. And the sad reality is that ADHD can add stress to a household — stress that you must work to balance out.

Jackson’s mom and I planned ways to reassure him that everything was alright with his parents. It worked! Jackson was comforted, and he returned to his old, jovial self. This encouraged me to pass on the following ideas to other families.

Do damage control.

Snappy comments between parents can be taken out of context. Children are listening to our conversations, even when we think they’re occupied. If you have been grumpy, admit it and reassure your child that it is not about him: “I guess I feel like a bear this morning. Maybe I should try to be more patient.”

Show your appreciation for your spouse.

Help your kids feel good about your relationship by saying things like “Didn’t Dad do a great job of fixing the garage up for us?” or “Mom fixed us the best dinner tonight. Let’s all say thank you to her.”

Be affectionate every day.

A goodbye kiss, a hug while doing dishes, and a shared laugh send powerful messages to the kids. They create an atmosphere that says, “We care for and love each other in this family.”

Involve your children in doing something special for your spouse.

At birthday or holiday time, take your children on a special shopping trip for dad (or mom). Don’t browse for yourself or let the kids pick out toys they want. Make the trip about finding the perfect present. This will help them learn to notice what is special to others.

Don’t argue in front of your children.

Engaging in, and resolving, conflict demonstrates a good relationship. You can’t eliminate differences of opinion with your spouse, but serious clashes may frighten young children. Whenever a disagreement is about your child — his ADHD treatment, her performance at school — hold your discussions in private. If a child hears his name in the context of an argument, he may worry that he’s causing problems between you.

After you work through an argument that your child might have heard, make a point of telling him that everything has been resolved. For example, “Mom and I talked about taking a trip to grandma’s house this spring. Even though we disagreed at first, we decided that it would be best to postpone our trip until the summer.”

Your children need to feel that their home is a place of warmth. Disagreements and stress can’t be avoided entirely, but you hope that your child can say in years to come, “Yes, I grew up in a loving and caring home.”