It happens to every child in one form or another – anxiety. As parents, we would like to shield our children from life’s anxious moments, but navigating anxiety is an essential life skill that will serve them in the years to come. In the heat of the moment, try these simple phrases to help your children identify, accept, and work through their anxious moments.
1. “Can you draw it?”
Drawing, painting or doodling about an anxiety provides kids with an outlet for their feelings when they can’t use their words.
2. “I love you. You are safe.”
Being told that you will be kept safe by the person you love the most is a powerful affirmation. Remember, anxiety makes your children feel as if their minds and bodies are in danger. Repeating they are safe can soothe the nervous system.
3. “Let’s pretend we’re blowing up a giant balloon. We’ll take a deep breath and blow it up to the count of 5.”
If you tell a child to take a deep breath in the middle of a panic attack, chances are you’ll hear, “I CAN’T!” Instead, make it a game. Pretend to blow up a balloon, making funny noises in the process. Taking three deep breaths and blowing them out will actually reverse the stress response in the body and may even get you a few giggles in the process.
4. “I will say something and I want you to say it exactly as I do: ‘I can do this.’” Do this 10 times at variable volume.
Marathon runners use this trick all of the time to get past “the wall.”
5. “Why do you think that is?”
This is especially helpful for older kids who can better articulate the “Why” in what they are feeling.
6. “What will happen next?”
If your children are anxious about an event, help them think through the event and identify what will come after it. Anxiety causes myopic vision, which makes life after the event seem to disappear.
7. “We are an unstoppable team.”
Separation is a powerful anxiety trigger for young children. Reassure them that you will work together, even if they can’t see you.
8. Have a battle cry: “I am a warrior!”; “I am unstoppable!”; or “Look out World, here I come!”
There is a reason why movies show people yelling before they go into battle. The physical act of yelling replaces fear with endorphins. It can also be fun.
9. “If how you feel was a monster, what would it look like?”
Giving anxiety a characterization means you take a confusing feeling and make it concrete and palpable. Once kids have a worry character, they can talk to their worry.
10. “I can’t wait until _____.”
Excitement about a future moment is contagious.
11. “Let’s put your worry on the shelf while we _____ (listen to your favorite song, run around the block, read this story). Then we’ll pick it back up again.”
Those who are anxiety-prone often feel as though they have to carry their anxiety until whatever they are anxious about is over. This is especially difficult when your children are anxious about something they cannot change in the future. Setting it aside to do something fun can help put their worries into perspective.
12. “This feeling will go away. Let’s get comfortable until it does.”
The act of getting comfortable calms the mind as well as the body. Weightier blankets have even been shown to reduce anxiety by increasing mild physical stimuli.
13. “Let’s learn more about it.”
Let your children explore their fears by asking as many questions as they need. After all, knowledge is power.
14. “Let’s count _____.”
This distraction technique requires no advance preparation. Counting the number of people wearing boots, the number of watches, the number of kids, or the number of hats in the room requires observation and thought, both of which detract from the anxiety your child is feeling.
15. “I need you to tell me when 2 minutes have gone by.”
Time is a powerful tool when children are anxious. By watching a clock or a watch for movement, a child has a focus point other than what is happening.
16. “Close your eyes. Picture this…”
Visualization is a powerful technique used to ease pain and anxiety. Guide your child through imagining a safe, warm, happy place where they feel comfortable. If they are listening intently, the physical symptoms of anxiety will dissipate.
17. “I get scared/nervous/anxious sometimes too. It’s no fun.”
Empathy wins in many, many situations. It may even strike up a conversation with your older child about how you overcame anxiety.
18. “Let’s pull out our calm-down checklist.”
Anxiety can hijack the logical brain; carry a checklist with coping skills your child has practiced. When the need presents itself, operate off of this checklist.
19. “You are not alone in how you feel.”
Pointing out all of the people who may share their fears and anxieties helps your child understand that overcoming anxiety is universal.
20. “Tell me the worst thing that could possibly happen.”
Once you’ve imagined the worst possible outcome of the worry, talk about the likelihood of that worst possible situation happening. Next, ask your child about the best possible outcome. Finally, ask them about the most likely outcome. The goal of this exercise is to help a child think more accurately during their anxious experience.
21. “Worrying is helpful, sometimes.”
This seems completely counter-intuitive to tell a child that is already anxious, but pointing out why anxiety is helpful reassures your children that there isn’t something wrong with them.
22. “What does your thought bubble say?”
If your children read comics, they are familiar with thought bubbles and how they move the story along. By talking about their thoughts as third-party observers, they can gain perspective on them.
23. “Let’s find some evidence.”
Collecting evidence to support or refute your child’s reasons for anxiety helps your children see if their worries are based on fact.
24. “Let’s have a debate.”
Older children especially love this exercise because they have permission to debate their parent. Have a point, counter-point style debate about the reasons for their anxiety. You may learn a lot about their reasoning in the process.
25. “What is the first piece we need to worry about?”
Anxiety often makes mountains out of molehills. One of the most important strategies for overcoming anxiety is to break the mountain back down into manageable chunks. In doing this, we realize the entire experience isn’t causing anxiety, just one or two parts.
26. “Let’s list all of the people you love.”
Anais Nin is credited with the quote, “Anxiety is love’s greatest killer.” If that statement is true, then love is anxiety’s greatest killer as well. By recalling all of the people that your child loves and why, love will replace anxiety.
27. “Remember when…”
Competence breeds confidence. Confidence quells anxiety. Helping your children recall a time when they overcame anxiety gives them feelings of competence and thereby confidence in their abilities.
28. “I am proud of you already.”
Knowing you are pleased with their efforts, regardless of the outcome, alleviates the need to do something perfectly – a source of stress for a lot of kids.
29. “We’re going for a walk.”
Exercise relieves anxiety for up to several hours as it burns excess energy, loosens tense muscles and boosts mood. If your children can’t take a walk right now, have them run in place, bounce on a yoga ball, jump rope or stretch.
30. “Let’s watch your thought pass by.”
Ask your children to pretend the anxious thought is a train that has stopped at the station above their head. In a few minutes, like all trains, the thought will move on to its next destination.
31. “I’m taking a deep breath.”
Model a calming strategy and encourage your child to mirror you. If your children allow you, hold them to your chest so they can feel your rhythmic breathing and regulate theirs.
32. “How can I help?”
Let your children guide the situation and tell you what calming strategy or tool they prefer in this situation.
33. “This feeling will pass.”
Often, children will feel like their anxiety is never-ending. Instead of shutting down, avoiding, or squashing the worry, remind them that relief is on the way.
34. “Let’s squeeze this stress ball together.”
When your children direct their anxiety to a stress ball, they feel emotional relief. Buy a ball, keep a handful of play dough nearby or make your own homemade stress ball by filling a balloon with flour or rice.
35. “I see Widdle is worried again. Let’s teach Widdle not to worry.”
Create a character to represent the worry, such as Widdle the Worrier. Tell your child that Widdle is worried and you need to teach him some coping skills.
36. “I know this is hard.”
Acknowledge that the situation is difficult. Your validation shows your children that you respect them.
37. “I have your smell buddy right here.”
A smell buddy, fragrance necklace or diffuser can calm anxiety, especially when you fill it with lavender, sage, chamomile, sandalwood or jasmine.
38. “Tell me about it.”
Without interrupting, listen to your children talk about what’s bothering them. Talking it out can give your children time to process their thoughts and come up with a solution that works for them.
39. “You are so brave!”
Affirm your children’s ability to handle the situation, and you empower them to succeed this time.
40. “Which calming strategy do you want to use right now?”
Because each anxious situation is different, give your children the opportunity to choose the calming strategy they want to use.
41. “We’ll get through this together.”
Supporting your children with your presence and commitment can empower them to persevere until the scary situation is over.
42. “What else do you know about (scary thing)?”
When your children face a consistent anxiety, research it when they are calm. Read books about the scary thing and learn as much as possible about it. When the anxiety surfaces again, ask your children to recall what they’ve learned. This step removes power from the scary thing and empowers your child.
43. “Let’s go to your happy place.”
Visualization is an effective tool against anxiety. When your children are calm, practice this calming strategy until they are able to use it successfully during anxious moments.
44. “What do you need from me?”
Ask your children to tell you what they need. It could be a hug, space or a solution.
45. “If you gave your feeling a color, what would it be?”
Asking another person to identify what they’re feeling in the midst of anxiety is nearly impossible. But asking your children to give how they feel with a color, gives them a chance to think about how they feel relative to something simple. Follow up by asking why their feeling is that color.
46. “Let me hold you.”
Give your children a front hug, a hug from behind, or let them sit on your lap. The physical contact provides a chance for your child to relax and feel safe.
47. “Remember when you made it through XYZ?”
Reminding your child of a past success will encourage them to persevere in this situation.
48. “Help me move this wall.”
Hard work, like pushing on a wall, relieves tension and emotions. Resistance bands also work.
49. “Let’s write a new story.”
Your children have written a story in their mind about how the future is going to turn out. This future makes them feel anxious. Accept their story and then ask them to come up with a few more plot lines where the story’s ending is different.
33 thoughts on “49 Phrases to Calm an Anxious Child”
Fantastic 🙂 every elementary school should have this up.
I think every elementary school should be a part of this!
My parents simply said “I’ll give you something to cry about!” Worked wonders. It’s ridiculous today. Toddlers run the home and parents are petrified to say no or ruffle their feathers.
My parents said that to me, too, and I’ve struggled to learn healthy ways of coping with perfectly normal and acceptable emotions throughout my adult life. I certainly don’t let my children run the household, but I do recognize them as fellow human beings who experience a wide variety of feelings. Shutting them down when difficult feelings arise with a phrase as dismissive and threatening as that one is cowardly. I’m raising human beings, and I want to teach them to respect the dignity of every human being, including themselves, all the time, not just when it is comfortable and convenient. I’m grateful for help learning to do that, and I’m definitely grateful to be raising my kids in a more child-friendly time.
awesome response– kind, respectful, and yet educational. Thanks for putting into words what I was reacting to with the previous comment.
Thanks, Carly. Candella is right awesome response!
Wonderful response! You are an engaged parent. You create a safe zone for your child while providing the tools to cope in this challenging world.
Perfect response! Dk you but u put words to my feelings
This makes me sad. I was told the same thing, when that was an appropriate thing to be told, when I was actually crying over something silly, and I wasn’t told it in an angry voice but once or twice, out of my parents exhaustion. I have used it a time or two myself, trying to get my kid to just change directions. I have asked if she wanted me to hit her toe with a hammer so that she would forget that her bit-lip. (Always said with a bit of obvious humor so she knew I didn’t really mean it.)
I have aunts and uncles though, that did not use that term with humor and actually meant it, one did give us something more to cry about rather often, when we were crying “for no reason” in her opinion. GUess what? She is the one family member whose kids grew up seriously screwed up. They all have had issues with their relationships in all walks of life and not one of them has had a loving, lasting relationship of more than a few years yet, and the oldest of them in now 48. They all have kids of their own and even grandkids, and those that got the same treatment have issues but those that made it out of the cycle of mean, they are well adjusted and happy kids.
Anyway, the saying that if “It was good enough for our parents its good enough for us” is a bunch of poo. Far more of their generation died in their youth than do today. Society grows and changes and I’d bet that you yourself could never survive alongside your great-grandparents. Life in general changes and we have to change with it, like it or not.
And because of phrases like ” I will give you something to cry about” I notice the lack of compassion you have as an adult… These tools are great to use with kids who are anxious. Our world can be a very uncertain place. We need to be as empathetic as possible to our young members of society.
My Dad said that too. It left me feeling that my emotions weren’t important. I also was confused because I thought I already had something to cry about. What this statement says is, “I don’t think your reason for crying is valid and if you don’t stop, I will harm you”. It certainly would work to get a kid to shut up but doesn’t teach them anything positive.
This type of comment drives the feelings inwards, that’s why it seemed to ‘work wonders’. It had you working like a puppet rather than a human being.
@Lily, some people have anxiety disorders. These tips are great! I am an adult and I have suffered from anxiety and panic attacks all of my life, and my parents also told me “I’ll give you something to cry about.” That didn’t help. Anxiety can be debilitating unless you have tools to help manage it.
SThere is a difference between a spoiled child and one with Mich anxiety. Look it up !! I could of used this as a kid!!
The world has always been a scary place. Unfortunately, today’s technology makes it visible to everyone. We were more sheltered as children from all the horrible events happening outsiide our front door. Finding ways to assuage these fears in children is a responsibility for all of us.
Great suggestions. I use some of these phrases with my Dd. The main ones I use is , “Let’s count (bedtime),” “Tell me about it (play time and not getting along with other).” and “Let me hold you (frustration in failing at attempts of independence).” and “What do you want me to do? (frustration in failing at attempts of independence)” It usually causes her to mellow out nicely. She communicates better and is usually more productive.
I used to suffer from panic attacks too. Now I take myself to the thrift store and find 3-4 ugly sweaters with coordinating colors and take them apart and roll the yarn up into a ball. Then I take that yarn and make a poncho and think about who’s going to LOVE the new present I’m making them!
But what to do when a child’s worries are real?
I don’t think the advice would vary. Besides, for kids, everything is real. There are plenty of really awful things that happen in the course of living, sometimes to children. But they will develop resiliance if allowed to process these intense feelings.
When I was in those middle teen years, I used to ask myself, “Will it matter in 5 years?” or “How will I feel about this in 5 years?”
I am so bothered by the idea that the response of a parent saying to an upset child “I’ll give you something to cry about” that I have to respond. It is such a bully response to a child that I am wondering in what world anyone would think that would be a good response to give a child who is upset over something. It would shut them up so that you do not have to bother with them but it also shuts them down emotionally. It also has nothing to do with having a well behaved child. We have to set boundaries with children and say no to them because they will test their limits but we also need to teach them coping skills. For a child, the ocean is so big and their boat is so small. My grandson who just turned three cries sometimes when he can’t get something to work and it takes patience but I have taught him to say “may I please have some help and then I am there to give him the help he needs. It has taken a lot of work but it makes things go so more smoothly for both of us. To me “I”ll give you something to cry about” is a cold lazy uncaring response.
“The ocean is so big, and their boat is so small” I Never though of it like that. I have one son who is more anxiety prone and one younger son who is more angry. I am going to use this phrase with them (not sure how yet but I will think about it). Thank you for this phrase, it has really struck a chord.
Silly me! When my mother used to say “I’ll give you something to cry about,” I used to think she meant a Hershey bat and I always wondered why I would cry about that. Pretty silly, huh?
Awesome article with good tips. Whenever I have a student acting up or with the wiggles, I always have them stand up and do some kind of silly exercise or go get a drink with them or walk with me to get something.
I have read these responses and know that any mean verbal saying does much damage to a child. I have these last seven years taken care of two previous girls that I have loved, played with and listened to their needs or thoughts. My friends think that I’m crazy, but I have healed from some verbal abuse from my youth by giving love instead abuse to these wonderful girls. They know that they are loved and understood by someone else than their parents. The parents are ideal and we are a team for the girls. I am 71 and love life and especially children. They learn more by kindness than meanness
Above should read precious girls.
31 and 37 are my favorites and I need to get myself a smell buddy as I find my diffuser and baths very helpful!!
Nice for those lovely articulate shy worries…i have a very anxious boy but when he is anxious he shuts down and rages..he would eat these for breakfast and spit them back out at me..sigh…
Quite frankly, I think to tell a child ‘I’ll give you something to cry about’ when they’re upset about something is practically child abuse. I can understand the temptation when a youngster is ‘throwing a wobbly’ as my Mum puts it, because they can’t have the big expensive toy, but to even think of saying it to a child who is upset/worried and you don’t know why, or if you do know why and it’s nothing to do with behaving badly… well that’s appalling. BTW I’m not saying you *can* say it when they’re ‘throwing a wabbly’, just that I understand the temptation. Quite how that situation is dealt with is another question for which I don’t have an answer.
My daughter, Margaret, is always anxious, and I started using some of the suggestions from this page, and she has been doing a lot better now that she has more control over her anxiety. Though she still has small panic attacks every now and then, she has showed a lot of improvements and she has been being more cooperative. This page was so helpful, and thank you!
So worried about my 8 year old grandson. Takes everything so personally and has bouts of anxiety/anger. Thinks everyone hates him (kids) and no one cares. What do I say/do to help calm fears and bolster his ego
Celebrate his social successes. Don’t dwell on negative events/behaviours. Share how you overcame worries that you’ve had (but without telling him something too frightening). Foster friendships by arranging play dates. Show your affection and confidence in him! A hug, a touch, listening to him.