How to Calm Your Anxious Child

Simple questions can get to the root of anxiety

Anxiety can be a challenge for every Type of child

It’s hard to watch your child get stuck in anxiety. They tighten up. They can’t work through things that they otherwise would. What do you do?

Every Type of child tends to get anxious for a unique reason. In this episode, Carol and Anne outline those reasons. The questions they share will help you get to the bottom of your child’s anxiety—and resolve it.

This episode’s Parenting Practice

This week, notice if your child is anxious, what is triggering it, and then use the techniques taught in this episode to help them move through it. Consider which changes are needed in your approach or your child’s environment.

Transcript of podcast episode

Carol: Because what will happen when we can’t put words to whatever we’re feeling, it can become overwhelming.

Welcome to The Child Whisperer Podcast. I’m your host, Carol Tuttle, author of the bestselling parenting book, The Child Whisperer. I’m with my co-host, Anne Tuttle Brown.

Anne: My question is how can I help my Type 2, 8-year-old son deal with having to take time to test regarding math facts and fluency words at school and at home? He starts to get the anxiety of being pushed and timed that he gets overwhelmed and doesn’t even want to start. He ends up doing poorly because of his anxiety.

Carol: That’s a fair concern because when a Type 2—that’s the soft, subtle, relaxed movement of a child, we call them the Sensitive Child—feels pressed, pressured, forced, they’re overwhelmed. And he would then do poorly. It’s a fair concern.

Anne: Yeah. A timed scenario. I still experience that. I’ll give myself 20-minute chunks to get things done and just yesterday I was like, “Okay. I’m gonna sit down and I’m gonna read this book that I’ve been wanting to read. I’ll just give myself 20 minutes,” and I started out being like, “How much am I gonna get done in 20 minutes? Oh, no.” And I was like, “Okay.”

Carol: Why do they have to time these things?

Anne: You know, I think…

Carol: To see how fast the brain works?

Anne: No. Because I think then they know like, “Okay. We’re…” Like, there’s a standardization to it. All kids are taking this test within this time at this age, whatever.

Carol: Well, they need a new different timeframe for Type 2 children.

Anne: One tip though would be rather than like let it push you, like, relax and do it. That’s how I responded even just yesterday. I was like, “I’m just gonna relax into this timeframe rather than thinking I need to catch up with it,” because that’s where the pressure comes for me. It’s like, “How much can I get done in this time?” And then rather than just being like, “I’m gonna do what I can in this time.” And I think it’s just, totally, this is a scenario that doesn’t work well for Type 2s. But because it is the scenario in the situation that you’re dealing with, you gotta find how to make it work.

Carol: Right.

Anne: So relax and do it. Rather than getting it all done.

Carol: Rather than feel like I have to speed things up. So he’s feeling like he needs to speed it up, then he can’t function. He kinda shuts his brain off. If he relaxes into it to see, what can I get done in my way, then he’ll be productive and probably do fine.

Anne: You can even have scenarios where you’re practicing. I mean, if you know this is coming up and it really is an important thing, like these are tests with math facts and fluency and he’s doing it at home and at school, maybe he’s home schooling some as well, can you role play a little bit and say, “Okay. Just 20 minutes. Don’t even worry about getting done.” Let’s just see and kind of just practice recreating those feelings, and being able to talk about it, and be intentive about the process. It may be helpful to role play and…

Carol: I think so. That’s a really good idea. Often, this would be the case where a parent would deal with this and now they’re aware of it, they haven’t really asked the child how they felt. This is the typical approach. They start to give them ways to fix it and, “Try and do this, try and do this.” I would, as an alternative option, sit down and actually hear them out, and say, “How does that make you feel? Do you feel like you’re hurried? Does that cause you stress?”

Get them going by giving words about it and say, “Do you feel pushed? Do you feel all confused inside? Do you feel like crying? Tell me more about how you feel.” Let them express their anxiety because what will happen when we can’t put words to whatever we’re feeling, it can become overwhelming. We’re not expressing it. So you want to give them a forum to express what’s going on for them because as we express our emotional state and put words to it, that allows an outlet for the energy to now relieve itself by talking about it.

So make sure you’re giving them a chance to talk about how their…what does the anxiety feel like. In this case, it’s a Type 2, you’ll have a sense of that. Type 1s can get anxious about different things. Type 3s get anxious. Type…

Anne: And let’s talk about that. For Type 1, what would cause anxiety is something that’s stifling them. They’re feeling like…

Carol: Heavy. Something that’s feeling heavy, boxed in, just stopped, just stifled. Yeah. That word “stifled” is great. They’re gonna get anxious and they’ll actually create unnecessary movement as a response. They won’t shut down necessarily. They’ll get antsy, frantic, and cause distractions because they’re trying to stimulate some movement in their world. Type 2, we’ve talked about.

Anne: It’s the pushing.

Carol: And they’ll shut down. Type 3s is being stopped. They’ll now want to push ahead and get more reactive to try and open the space to move forward. And Type 4 is not having a say, being told what to do, not invited to have a voice of authority in their lives. And they’re going to get angry, mean, and difficult as a form of anxiety. They won’t express it emotionally as much. Crying. Type 2 might have meltdowns, more whining, fussing.

Type 4 will just get really difficult to deal with. Type 3 will get more, just behaviorally, oppositional, defiant, louder. Type 1 will just seem a little off the wall to you, like, “Oh, my gosh.” They’re all over the place.

Anne: I think that Type 1 could have burst of emotion as well with the crying or upset.

Carol: Right, right. And so, anxiety is a fact that children are not being supported through their nature and that’s where this mom was smart enough to go, “I know why they’re having it. They’re feeling pushed in this time constraint. And now my child is shutting down. What do we do?” We’ve suggested, if the environment can change, that’s the number one supportive thing to affect. In this case, I don’t know if you have a choice to say, “Well, could he have 10 more minutes? My child needs just a little more time to process information.”

Anne: I guarantee if you even drop the timer, he would finish the test in that amount of time.

Carol: Yeah. I know. It’s the idea of feeling like…

Anne: It’s the fact that he’s being kind of pushed.

Carol: Exactly.

Anne: And I think that this would go back to another scenario that it’s not just about a time test. He hasn’t had any experience in his life that caused him anxiety except this time test.

Carol: That’s true.

Anne: Like, there has been responses where he has felt pressured and pushed and had this similar response and it’s presenting in this area. I looked at my little 2-year-old. He gets anxious when… Like, we’re walking into a store and he loves to press the handicap button to open the door or to open the door himself. He just loves doing that. He’s 2 years old and he’ll see his Type 3 sister charging ahead, “No, no, no. I wanna open the door. I wanna…” He starts freaking out and he’ll get all anxious.

And he’ll just stop in his tracks and just be like, “No.” And I’ve communicated with Katie like, “That’s his favorite thing to do.” And I’ve even reassured Sam, “You’ll be able to do it. It looks like she’s going to because she’s moving faster. You’ll be able to open the door.” And I’ll just make sure that he’s reassured and he can move forward at his pace. But I can see him, and we got a lot of Type 3s in our family.

He’s gonna be trying to catch up with all this so he can do what he wants to do and he’s going to cause burnout. And so, I’m very fond of noticing that now so that I can be mindful to give him that reassurance he needs to let him move at his pace. And so, what other scenarios in your son’s life have been causing anxiety and have there been pressures? Where can you release that?

Carol: Yeah. It’s presenting on hyper mode right now on that one.

Anne: Yeah. And anxiety is a physical habit. Like, especially as a Type 2, there are scenarios in my life we’re I’m feeling anxious just because I’m used to feeling anxious. And I’ll say, “What am I even feeling stressed about right now?” You know, I kinda have to backtrack and be like, “Oh, yeah. It was that that kinda triggered it.” And I’m still carrying it because I haven’t paused to deal with this emotion. I’m just trying to push through it and hope that it will fade away. But it’s not and I’m moving forward in an anxious state.

And so, stopping has worked for me. Writing it down, talking about it like you mentioned, that’s a great tool. But what are some other tools that you can give and share with us that can help that physical response when we’re in that state of anxiety?

Carol: Yeah. Your body has a physical response. Anxiety has a physical component to it. Your biochemistry will actually change. I’ve been diagnosed officially as someone with medical, you know, level anxiety that I’ve had to heal. And that anxiety goes to an extreme where just even practical everyday things can seem overwhelming, just insurmountable. It stops you in your tracks that just…you shut down completely. And I’ve had to train my body now to come back from that.

One of the simplest techniques you can use is the brain’s going into a mode where things are…they seem amplified. Your perspective’s skewed really on really what’s happening here. Your heart can pound. You can get chest pain. You can get issues in your stomach. So the first thing that you can do that a child can learn to do very easily, this boy could do this prior to going into the test. In fact, notice a behavioral response. It’s very common that people do without even thinking about it.

They put their hand on their forehead when they feel overwhelmed. They’re like, “Oh.” Well, that’s natural because your brain needs more blood in the frontal lobes. You’ve gotta access the frontal lobe function of your brain which is your reasonable mind. This is your, “Everything’s okay. Let’s see the bigger picture here. I just need to take a deep breath in and recognize I’m safe and I’m fine.” So, intentionally do that. Press your forehead with your fingertips. You’re going to draw the blood into the front part of your brain.

Anne: So just right above your eyebrows.

Carol: Right above your eyebrows.

Anne: You will kinda feel there’s a little bit of tenderness right there.

Carol: Just press on it. And sometimes you’ll even feel the pulse.

Anne: How long do you press it for?

Carol: Until you feel…I think till you feel that sense of relief. I’ve pressed as many as several minutes and just hold it. In fact, everybody do it right now and you’ll feel it’s very calming. And you tend to take a deep breath. It provokes a breathing response as well, you’d want to breathe in and just… It also brings you into the present moment because, typically, your anxiety is provoking a what-if scenario, you’re trying to prevent something, where it gets you into the present moment and then you’re able to say, “What’s the next step I need to take in the situation? I’m okay.”

I also have a lot of tips on my YouTube channel. I have several videos about healing anxiety on my YouTube channel that can help you with affirmations that are supportive, how to train your mind to think very specific thoughts that will counter anxiety, taking over other healing techniques that are very supportive. But that’s the simplest one that anyone can do anywhere. It doesn’t look weird. You put your hands on. It just looks like you’re thinking, putting your head down and thinking.

That will counter the anxiety that’s going on at a physical level. And in this case with children, what is it that may be provoking their anxiety within the home and they are now being disciplined for misbehaving when, really, the environment needs to change up a bit so that they aren’t put…go through those each type in what creates anxiety which comes out as stress which looks like, “My child us misbehaving,” which then looks like, “I need to discipline them to stop this.”

That’s what I love in The Child Whisperer. No. Go back to what’s the parenting approach that needs to be employed to create a different scenario so my child is not stressed, so that I don’t have to discipline the misbehaving of their stress.

Anne: That’s going to make it easier for everyone.

Carol: It’s the whole concept in The Child Whisperer is your parenting approach is either supporting your child. There’s gonna be need for discipline here and there. But a lot of what you’re disciplining is corrected on the front end of the parenting approach very much. You can remove the need for discipline by changing the parenting strategy. Cases like this where you’re put into situations, you need to learn how to manage your thought process, use this simple technique so that you’re able to successfully move through life when the situation isn’t the most supportive always to who you are that you recognize it.

And if you talk to your eight-year-old about this, do they know their tendency? Do they understand, “I have a very relaxed way, very methodical way of dealing with things and if I feel pushed, hurried, forced, I can go into overwhelm and shut down?” Does your child know this about themselves? Isn’t that profound to know at eight years old? “This isn’t weird. I’m not some kid that’s stupid. I’m not unusual.”

Anne: Yeah. “What’s wrong with me?”

Carol: “I’m gonna work with this rather than judge myself.” So, to me, educating your children and then supporting them in, working with what is a natural tendency for them so they can be successful is huge. So what’s our parenting practice this weekend?

Anne: The parenting practice is notice when your child is anxious, what is triggering it, and then use the techniques taught to help them move through it.

Carol: Yeah. So is it something you need to change in how you’re parenting approach to them or their environment? Can something in their environment be shifted?

Anne: It’s kind of two things. It’s either remove it or move through it in a way that it’s supposed to.

Carol: Exactly. There you go. There’s two. That’s it. Remove it or teach him how to move through it successfully.

Thanks for listening. For more support, go to where you can purchase the book, subscribe to our weekly parenting practice e-mail, and find the transcription and audio of “The Child Whisperer” podcast.

Anne: If you’re listening on iTunes, thank you for leaving a review. If you have a parenting question, please send it to [email protected].

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