13 Powerful Phrases Proven to Help an Anxious Child Calm Down

It’s time for school. The bus will arrive any minute. Maybe today will be the day!

But then you hear it: “Mom, I don’t want to go to school.”

Your heart sinks. Here we go again. Every day it’s the same conversation. The same conversation that usually ends up in tears, missing the bus and late for school again.

“You’ll be fine, honey!” you say cheerfully. “There’s nothing to worry about!”

But your words fall on deaf ears. Your child is fully convinced that everything will NOT be ok and that there are PLENTY of things to worry about. Sighing, you sit down on the couch, wracking your brain for something more helpful to say.

Helpful Phrases to Calm an Anxious Child

If your child struggles with anxiety, you know the challenge of finding the right things to say when he or she is worried. It’s not easy to connect without making the fears worse, while at the same time offering support and encouragement.

Are you curious how you can help calm an anxious child?

Today, my good friend and parent coach, Nicole from Imperfect Families, is here to give some amazing tips on how to respond to your anxious child.

Rather than telling your child “You’ll be fine,” or “Don’t worry about it,” try one of these phrases the next time your child is feeling worried:

What to Say to Help an Anxious Child Calm Down

  • “I am here; you are safe.” Anxiety has a way of making things look worse and feel scarier than when we are not feeling worried. These words can offer comfort and safety when your child is feeling out of control, especially if they are at the height of their worry. If you’re not sure what to say, this is an excellent go-to phrase!
  • “Tell me about it.” Give your child room to talk about their fears without interrupting. Some children need to have time to process through their thoughts. Do not offer solutions or try to fix it. Children sometimes do better with a set amount of time: “Let’s talk about your worries for 10 minutes.”
  • “How big is your worry?” Help your child verbalize the size of their worry and give you an accurate picture of how it feels to them. They can represent their worry by using arm length (hands close together or arms stretched wide apart) or by drawing three circles on a paper (small, medium and large) and choosing the one that applies.
  • “What do you want to tell your worry?” Explain to your child that worry is like an annoying “worry bug” that hangs around telling them to be worried. Create a few phrases, then give them permission to talk back to this “worry bug.” They can even be bossy: “Go away!” or “I don’t have to listen to you!” Use silly voices, and try it loud and quiet.
  • “Can you draw it?” Many kids cannot express their emotions with words. Encourage them to draw, paint or create their worries on paper. When they are finished, make observations, and give them a chance to explain the significance: “That’s a lot of blue!”
  • “Let’s change the ending.” Anxious children often feel stuck in the same pattern without a way out. Help them see different options by telling their story, but leaving off the ending. Then, create a few new endings. Some can be silly, but at least one should be realistic for your child. Focus on your child conquering their fears with confidence!
  • “What other things do you know about (fill in the blank)?” Some children feel empowered when they have more information about their fear (especially things like tornadoes, bees, elevators, etc.). Grab a book from the library, do a science experiment, research together online: How often does your fear happen? How do people stay safe?

Hacks for Angry Child

  • “Which calming strategy do you want to use?” Work proactively to create a long list of calming strategies your child enjoys. Practice them during the day, at random times when your child feels calm. When your child feels a worry sneaking into their thoughts, encourage them to pick something from the list.
  • “I’m going to take a deep breath.” Sometimes our children are so worried that they resist our encouragement to pick a calming strategy. In this case, use yourself as the calming skill! Verbalize what you are doing and how it makes you feel. Some people hold their children close so they can feel the rise and fall of their chest as they breathe.
  • “It’s scary AND…” Acknowledge your child’s fear without making it even more frightening by using the word “AND.” After the word “and” you can add phrases like, “You are safe.” or “You’ve conquered this fear before.” or “You have a plan.” This models an internal dialogue your child can use next time they are feeling worried.
  • “I can’t wait to hear about…” It’s hard to see our kids suffer with worry. Many parents rush in to rescue their child from an anxiety-producing situation. Encourage your child that they will survive this difficult feeling by bringing up a topic to talk about when you’re together later — what they did at recess, who they sat by at lunch, etc.
  • “What do you need from me?” Instead of assuming that you know what your child needs, give them an opportunity to tell you what would help. Older kids may be able to verbalize if they need you to listen, give a hug, or help them find a solution. If you can’t do it, give them their wish in fantasy: “I wish grown ups could go to kindergarten too!”
  • “This feeling will pass.” This may be a phrase you can both use when your child is at the height of panic. All feelings pass eventually. It often feels like they will never end, you won’t make it through, or it’s too hard. And that’s OK. Don’t let your brain get stuck in that moment; focus on the relief that is on the horizon.

Anxiety and worry look different for every child. Not every one of these strategies will work for your kids. You are the expert on your child. If you try something and it makes their worries worse, don’t panic. Just pick something else from the list to try next time. Eventually, you will find a few phrases that are effective for sending a calm, encouraging and empowering message to your child.

When My Worries Get too Big is a great addition to add to any library if you have a child who worries or is anxious. Engaging and easy to read, this illustrated children s book is filled with opportunities for children to participate in developing their own self-calming strategies. Children who use the simple strategies in this charming book, illustrated by the author, will find themselves relaxed and ready to focus on work or play!

The Superkids Activity Guide to Conquering Every Day is chocked full of empowering tools and strategies to beat the worries and fear. A first of its kind, the book is written to the child and gives them the science and language behind why they do what they do, while giving them tools to fill their toolbox to conquer each and every day.

Changing Your Anxious Child’s Inner Thoughts…

The truth is…

Kids are constantly being told they aren’t good enough, not smart enough, not calm enough, just plain and simple…

not enough.

What would happen if instead of telling kids they are not enough, we changed the way we saw our children and we changed their inner language?

My new book, The Superkids Activity Guide, is aimed to empower ALL kids to speak up, share their superpowers and learn why they do the things they do so they can advocate for themselves!!

The book has a manifesto that I stand behind 100%. I believe all children should believe these things about themselves and often wish I had believed these things to be true as a child myself.

Superkids Manifesto

This is a small excerpt:

“Go ahead and say it, so you believe it: “I am a SUPERKID.”

There, didn’t that feel good? Go ahead and say it one more time, just to make sure it sinks in: “I am a SUPERKID.”

Before you start to think of all the reasons you can’t possibly be a superkid, I want to stop you. You see, even the most famous rock stars have doubt and don’t believe in themselves every day. This doesn’t mean they are any less super. And even superheroes have struggles and pitfalls. That doesn’t make them any less super, either. The truth is, despite your struggles, your mistakes, or your bad days…YOU ARE A SUPERKID. The Superkids Manifesto is yours. I want you to own it.

You are unique.
You are adventurous.
You are spirited.
You are creative.
You are fierce.

You are a SUPERKID.

You are going to conquer the world and I am going to help you every step of the way… ”

In order to make this movement touch every corner of the globe, we need YOU!!!

Click Here to Join the Superkids Movement Today!

Print this Free Phrases Cheat Sheet to Help Your Anxious Child in the Moment

This post comes with a free printable to help with you in a bind.

I have made a simple printable for you that has all of these phrases in a simple and easy to display format. Place it on the fridge, in a frame or even in your child’s calm down spot so they remember them as well. Don’t get caught struggling to remember your options!

This printable simplifies it!

Here is a sneak preview…

Say to calm an Anxious Child

Download Your Free Printable

        1. Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable, plus join my weekly newsletter! Click Here to Download and Subscribe
        2. Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
        3. Place it on your refrigerator.

Note: If your child’s worries are impacting their school functioning, sleep or eating habits, or are negatively impacting their daily routine, seek support from a mental health professional.

Nicole Schwarz is a mom to 3 little girls, a Licensed Therapist and Parent Coach. Check out her blog, Imperfect Families for more positive parenting tips and learn more about how Parent Coaching can help you find solutions to your parenting challenges.

Check out these Parenting Resources from Nicole:

Parent coaching sessions
Loving an Anxious Child
How to Break the Cycle of Anxiety in Your Family

 

What Can I Say To My Anxious Child

Need More Help with Your Anxious Child?

I have been researching for the last two years to find the best resources for calming an anxious child and I think I have found some pretty amazing secrets that I can’t wait to share with you!

Finally, you want to build your toolkit. You can’t possibly anticipate every problem that will occur or everything your child will worry about. But you can be prepared. That’s where Calm the Chaos | The Behavior Workshop comes in.

Registration for Calm the Chaos : The Behavior Workshop (a FREE 4 part video series) is closed right now, but you can get on the notification list. It will be starting May 2018.

Baffling Behaviors Workshop to Help an Anxious Child Calm Down

Here’s the link: CLICK HERE for the Behavior Workshop

Kids that struggle with anxiety are often mislabeled as shy, emotional, sensitive and moody. What if we could change the way the world saw these kids, and better yet… change the way they saw themselves?

For simple games and activities that enable you to see your child as the Superkid they already are, instead of feeling lost, confused and in a constant battle with your child, please consider The Superkids Activity Guide to Conquering Every Day

Superkids Guide Worries Away

What started as a simple guide  with 75 simple crafts, games and activities to help adults and kids manage the most difficult parts of the day (mornings, wait times, mealtime, playtime, learning, and nighttime),The Superkids Activity Guide has quickly become a movement, reaching millions of people on Facebook alone.

The Superkids Movement and Activity Guide is aimed to empower ALL kids to speak up, share their superpowers and learn why they do the things they do so they can advocate for themselves!!

Click here to get your copy of the best-selling book today. 

83 thoughts on “13 Powerful Phrases Proven to Help an Anxious Child Calm Down”

  1. Pingback: 13 Helpful Phrases to Calm Your Anxious Child - Imperfect Families

  2. katepickle

    This is a fabulous list… really really fabulous!

    1. Lemon Lime Adventures

      Thank you! So glad it is helpful!

  3. Betsy

    #14 “I understand”. That is the very first thing our DD needs to hear… =)

  4. Alanna

    Thank you! A variety of ideas here. So important that we’re aware of the words we’re using and how they impact this population.

  5. Karen Sher

    fantastic advice! I have a son that suffers from acute anxiety. He is now 11. Some of these strategies are not age appropriate for him – do you have some strategies for older kids? Many thanks!

    1. Anxious Mom

      This is fantastic advice. Wish i had hafbit 20nyears ago. I think it would have made a difference in what our child is going through now, who is 23, extreme anxiety, and i feel lost trying to help. I think back then i thought it was just shyness now i’m realizing it may have bern anxiety. Any suggestions for helping an older “child”?

      1. Violet Churchill

        Have you considered Yoga…it is such an amazing tool to breathing thru distress and focus on something other than your anxiety…it works for me and my kids when they are worried or stressed…I cannot say enough good things about Yoga and it’s healing powers…Good Luck with your older child and ….Namaste

    2. Erica

      I’m interested in this too!

  6. Joy Russell

    My grandson didn’t want to attend school again today and I ran out of things to say to reason with him. He is 9 years. He seems to want to fight verbally.

    1. Katie

      My son was just the same. His response to anxiety was anger and even rage. A specialist at his school gave me a tip that has made a huge difference for us. She said, “Try to view these episodes as seizures, not tantrums. “. If my son were convulsing on the floor I wouldn’t stand there and tell him he’d be fine or that there’s nothing to worry about. Now, when he starts in with “I am NOT going to school!” I just calmly say, “It sounds like you’re feeling very uncomfortable. How can I help you?” It diffuses the situation so much faster. Some days it’s 15 minutes, others it’s almost instantaneous. Also, we have been using the Zones of Regulation ( Google it) with great success to help him identify what he’s feeling and equip him with specific strategies to get back to calm. Good luck! You’re not alone!

  7. KSV

    Our 16 yr old has been fighting this for a long while now. Wish I had these tools to say years ago. Definitely a great list.

    1. E. Meyer

      My daughter started having anxiety in elementary school. It was very difficult to find ways to help. We tried many therapists or therapies. When children are young it is hard for them to communicate how they are feeling. She ended up missing a lot of school. But there is hope now in her twenties she has learnt coping skills and uses anti-anxiety medication which has been helpful. She is in college and is a very good student (straight A’s) my point is there is hope! But I think this list would have been helpful to me in the beginning. It was very difficult to find ways to help her back in the beginning. Kudos to you 🙂

  8. My husband has anxiety and he helped his sister coach her son through taking his fears to extremes to show how ridiculous some of his worries were. Like a “what would happen if that fear happened… and then what?” It was a coping mechanism my husband used as a child too, before anyone really acknowledged kids’ anxiety. Not for all kids, but maybe an option when you’re out of things to try.

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  13. Wow. As a special ed aide in a public school – these are GREAT tips – will definitely add these to my toolbox. Thank you so much for sharing.

  14. Kellie York

    My 7 year old has struggled with acute anxiety since around the age of two. She also has sensory processing disorder which is a huge reason why the anxiety began.

    Recently, after trying so many different strategies over the years, i’ve had a bit of a breakthrough. It certainly helps to tell her she is safe and that her Dad and I will never let anything hurt her and that we will help her through these feelings
    We’ve been working on the breathing for years, deep breath in through your nose, out through your mouth. I say these words whilst doing the breathing with her, almost like a meditation, her little brother even joins in, she finally is joining us too, this has taken years of hyperventilating on my behalf from too much oxygen coursing through my veins but a last she is doing it.
    The one that has worked the best though is giving her anxiety a persona. I call him Mr Anxiety and make her laugh by telling him get out of the way, you’re not useful and you are not going to stop Lily from doing this, she’s stronger than you, get out of her way before I kick you up the bum etc.Anything basically to make her laugh. Her little brother loves this and joins in and i hope eventually she will join in, besides laughing….which is perfectly fine with me. Maybe next time we might try and describe what he looks like too…note to self.

    Remember, anything and everything is worth a try.

    Good luck .

  15. Pingback: Calming an anxious child - Manley Park Primary School PTA

  16. This list is very usable and appropriate for anxiety. I should help anyone working with an anxious child. The suggestion to find a mental health therapist is also a good one since anxiety can take root and disrupt development. See a free list of questions parents can use when interviewing a children’s therapist on the phone here.http://bit.ly/1Oj4J7I At ParentWhiz.com

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  18. I had so much anxiety growing up. I wish my parents had known some of these strategies to help me. Excellent!

  19. Andrea

    One thing that worked with my daughter was to let her wear a bracelet or necklace of mine. Something else we would do is I would spray a little bit of my perfume on her arm – the smell would remind her of me and comfort her.

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  23. Charlotte

    I agree with most of your comments. HOWEVER, please use a darker text color. You have a lot of good comments but they are difficult to read.

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  38. Aimee

    Another good book is Jonathan James and the What If Monster. You can purchase the monster plush, too. Kids can tell their worries or what ifs to the monster.

  39. Fantastic advice! I have a son that suffers from acute anxiety. He is now 11. Some of these strategies are not age appropriate for him – do you have some strategies for older kids? Many thanks!

    1. Lemon Lime Adventures

      Can you elaborate on what your child is anxious about, I would be happy to make another list!

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  42. Simone Beee

    I wrote this for my husband who’s been punishing our 8 year old daughter for being scared of going to school. He claimed she wasn’t really scared but once I refused to believe she could act that anxious (I was an anxious child and recognized the behaviour). To an outsider who hasn’t experienced anxiety, it looked like defiance. I approached her teacher and he was able to confirm with me that the child our daughter feared had actually strangled another child and an ambulance was called for the other child who was his victim (which our daughter witnessed and feared telling us). I hope you dont mind but I’m also going to add all your points too, they were truly wonderful.

    Dear Husband,

    Part of growing up means our daughters will likely face difficulties like losing a pet, feeling rejection from a friend and/or a group, bullying both overt (mainly from boys) and covert (mainly from girls), feeling unsupported, feelings of neglect, abandoned (even while you’re physically in the same house feeding and clothing your children), extreme loneliness, sadness, uncertainty, unworthiness (especially if physically different example overweight or wear glasses etc).

    I’m speaking from first hand experience. I felt all this as a little girl and now I’ve grown into a very proud confident woman. I’m here to tell you how to make things better for our daughters who are innocent, inexperienced in life and need your support. By being approachable they don’t have to go through decades of questioning their self worth and lovability like I did. Our job as adults particularly as parents is to be their safe harbour in the storm, their landing pad, their refuge, their ………oh you get it 

    Being there for someone older can usually just be listening to them. By talking things out that person gets to vent and that shares the burden in half and somehow that works. It’s enough to move on or help make decisions but with children they don’t have life experiences to know what to do next (opinions, guidance and role playing can alleviate this) and if they are abnormal for feeling the way they do (this feeling can make a child feel different and different as a an adult can be freeing but to a child it can feel like death, being thrown out of the club, the tribe and left to defend themselves amongst the lions).

    This is where you come in. I know you feel uncomfortable listening to a child express pain. Sometimes it’s because it feels petty to you with all your “real” troubles or because you love your children so much that it hurts so bad to know they are in pain and you believe by saying “Don’t Worry About It” can help them. It doesn’t!!! It’s the worst advice to give. By saying that, it says that their feelings aren’t that important to you, they personally aren’t important enough to take time to listen, they should keep their feelings inside and bottle them up and by expressing their feelings makes them different and weird. (Hint being different and weird as a child is very frightening, it means you wont be part of the tribe and little kids rely on the old brain to help them survive. The old brain tells them they have to be part of the tribe or else they will be left out in the wilderness by themselves).

    Excerpt from http://www.ucg.com
    If you try to change the subject, make a joke or come up with reasons the problem isn’t a problem, you send him the message that you don’t want to hear his problems and that expressing sadness is not acceptable. Responses such as “It’s nothing to get upset about,” “You’re acting like a baby,” “It can’t be that bad” and “Don’t worry” minimize the problem and lay a truckload of guilt on the suffering child.

    “Parents can get so panicky about not knowing what to do or say that they shut the suffering child out to make themselves feel more comfortable,” says one family counselor. “It’s not that their intentions are bad. Most people don’t even know they’re doing it. But rather than say, ‘Don’t cry; it’ll be okay,’ your child needs to be told to go ahead and cry.”

    Instead listening to your child, don’t interrupt except by clarifying what was said in a gentle kind voice. Lots of I’m sorry that happened to you honey and you are right to feel that way goes miles into reassuring children. And yes they have every right to feel the way they do. Just because you don’t feel that way in that situation, doesn’t mean they are wrong to have their feelings. #feelingsareneverwrong. Telling a child they are wrong and to toughen up is not a very good strategy to reassuring a child. Being by their side as a strong but kind allie is the way to go. If they know that the person they are sharing their problem with is assertive and can stick up for them with words and not aggression, they will feel safe! If they think you’ll make things worse by going up against the person they have an issue with, they will fear that you will make the situation worse. However, if they know you’ve got their back and you tell them that and that you will be there for them, you’ve probably just knocked 80% of the fear.

    Knowing what to do in a situation particularly when it involves another party is the hardest part especially if you’re like me with little life experience of handling confrontation or interpersonal relationships and you haven’t had any professional training. That’s where the good old internet comes in. You find out what to do and then you role play it with the child. You do it so many times with the child over days that this child builds so much confidence that it becomes second nature to them. So when they panic and their brain goes into fear mode, they will instinctively do what you did in the role play. Talk needs role playing afterwards, without it, it’s just theory.

    The next thing you need to do is to hug your child. To reassure them by holding their hand, gentle placing their head against your chest and telling them, you will protect them every way you can or like I say “you have their back”. “I’m hear for you, you’re not alone” is the most reassuring statement to give to your child. There’s more at lemonlimeadventures.com (go there they even talk about the breathing I do).

    Perhaps nothing is more comforting to a grief-stricken child than the warmth of his parent’s body. Don’t hesitate to soothe with your hands, put your arms around his shoulders, hug him or hold him tightly on your lap. Cradle your child in your arms just as you would an infant.

    Be careful not to emphasize independence and self-reliance so much that your child feels guilty whenever he feels the need to become dependent and babied for a bit. Allow your child to be emotionally dependent on you for as long as it takes him to regain composure and strength. That was from UCG.ORG (no we are not religious but it was a brilliant article)

    When in private, encourage your child to cry it away and open your arms and encourage them to cry it out. Tell them it’s good for them (Scientists have proven crying is good for us, even just a few tears are enough to get rid of toxic emotions). I also encourage constructive anger, it’s allowing the child to punch the bed, visualize smacking the person so that they fly out of space or whatever else they want to do to the person in their head (reassure them that this is not something we do in real life, it just helps get rid of the angries from our hearts”) If you don’t allow this, they may become very angry children and people later in life – they are either passive aggressively or overtly angry. Anger is just fear that wasn’t released as children.

    Remind your child that many before her have been in this situation, many children she even knows are going through this right now or have in the past or will in the very near future. You could also share an experience of your own that is similar to what she is going through. If you know of aunts, uncles, bff’s or grandparents who have been through the same experiences, pass their stories along to your child. This seems to help a lot more than you would think.

    (ucg.org again) – “It takes time to work through the grief process,” says one counselor. “Try to understand what your child is going through. You may wish she was her usual, cheerful self, but you shouldn’t expect her to cover up her sadness just so you can feel more comfortable. Give your child all the time she needs.”

    Having a warm shower, having a warm drink, sitting infront of the heater (or having a swim in summer), sleeping on things usually fixes her perspective, having guidance over time can help her build confidence for life. Don’t expect your hour talk to resolve everything, you make need to repeat this process a few times on different subjects and a lot of the time even the same subject but if you can, you’ll be a super parent, a super friend and you’ll have a lifelong supporter and cheerleader (um I mean from me for being the rock for our children).

    Your job is to patient. You will be rewarded with such a happy, confident and loving child. You’ll feel proud of yourself just being able to do this rather than shutting your child down so that you can PRETEND she’s OK.

    I forgive you and love you. Sorry if this comes off as me being angry at you (I accept you feel bad about it and she forgives you) but I’m trying to avoid her being punished for being bullied ever again. I’m her only advocate. I’ve got to stick up for her. This is how you support her.

  43. Pingback: 13 Helpful Phrases to Calm an Anxious Child (reblogged from LemonLime Adventures) – pedagoglog

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  52. I love this list, I love every single one of them. Thank you for the post 🙂

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  55. these are some amazing lines to calm a child, i loved sometime we just dont understand how to handle them i am gonna stick this on my almirah to remember!!!

    AllThatsmom

  56. Two of our boys, ages 21 & 16, have X-linked Lissencephaly & are both non-verbal. Our 21 yr old also has SPD, while the 16 yr old has seizures. What are phrases I can use for them? They wouldn’t be able to answer some of the questions listed. Thanks!

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  59. Erica

    And for a speech delayed child?

  60. Super-great list of useful strategies!

    However, the opening story and some of the comments about going to school being an anxiety-inducing issue make me feel concerned that maybe school — the particular one or an educational institution in general — is maybe distressing these kids for a good reason(s).

    What if instead of helping them attempt to manage their anxiety, they should be removed from the situation that causes it? (Even for us adults I think it’s a tricky balance between knowing when to ‘bravely truck through’ something, using our arsenal of healthy coping mechanisms and when to say ‘you know what, I don’t have to suffer like this — there are other options!’)

    My husband was a child who suffered a lot of anxiety because of school, all for reasons that basically boil down to being extremely introverted. Not only did the long, tedious, constant interaction with others have him perpetually in a state of low-energy (read: one little stressor away from an introvert melt-down), but introverts learn differently / often have different interests or levels of focus, etc. than extroverts (who more often enjoy school on some level).

    My husband could have had a completely different educational experience that was true to his temperament if his parents had examined options outside of ‘traditional schooling’, e.g. homeschooling. He (and I) are convinced that that one, big, crucial decision would have fundamentally, positively impacted him in ways he’d still be benefitting from now, more than a decade later.

  61. jan

    “What do you want to tell your worry?” How about “I’m here: you are safe.”.

  62. Pingback: 13 Powerful Phrases Proven to Help an Anxious Child Calm Down - Child, Youth, & Families Liaison

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  64. Jane Garrett

    Most children anxious about going to school have anxieties about leaving home.

  65. Vlad Mikijanic

    Submitted the requested information, and…………..no downloadable 🙁

  66. Pingback: Building Independence in New Situations - Ameliabehaviour.com

  67. Pingback: How Adults Can Help Children With Anxiety – Oppression & Justice Guide

  68. Hi, I’m from Mexico. As probably you should know we are going through some difficult times right now, because of the earthquake that hit us last week. Any how, I was wondering if I can translate some of the super kid stuff, it will be really helpful for our children right now, specially those directly affected.

    Thank you very much, hope you can answer soon

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