Is Anxiety Ruling Your Home?

Posted: March 31, 2022

Do you have a son, daughter or gender fluid child whose behavior seems nasty, controlling, angry or withdrawn?  It may be anxiety.  

Here's what anxiety is, why it's often so hard to understand, and how to help relieve it in your child.  

Anxiety is a physiological response to a former fear or threat.  It's also known as "fear where there's no present threat," which is what makes it hard to understand.  Your child has a safe home, enough food, clothes, medical care, transportation, education and your dedication to their well-being.  So what's the issue?  Why all the unfounded fear? 

Especially in sensitive kids, the fear settles in after a string of big and/or small traumas that could even have happened in utero, outside of your knowledge.  It seems like you've seen everything your child has had happen, but you really haven't.  This fear lives in them uninvited.  It erodes their sense of EMOTIONAL safety, which is as vital to their health as physical safety.  You then see a child with a huge desire to control the situation, which comes out as opposition, negative language, refusals, and disrespect.  Or at least it feels that way to you.  The desire to control one's parents and environment is simply an attempt to make things more predictable and less anxiety producing.  That's all.  

Let me draw you in to a new role.  Instead of thinking, "That was so disrespectful and I can't let this child get away with it," try the more compassionate approach. "I wonder what's hurting inside my child.  It seems like she's in more fear than seems warranted.  I'm going to try to get to that emotion and relieve it."  You are now what I call a clinical parent.  You don't have to take it personally when your child feels overwhelmed and reacts with big emotions.  It's not personal.  You can take a broader view and say, "What's the source of this outburst and how can I assist?"  It relieves you of the feeling that your child is way out of line and needs correcting.  It relieves you of guilt over raising such an out-of-control kid.  It helps you be much more effective in lessening the outbursts in frequency and duration.  You are an empowered clinical parent. 

The amazing thing is that your relationship as a parent to your anxious child is THE most powerful one in their life.  When you know what to do, you are unstoppable in your healing abilities.   You get to employ reflective listening, heartfelt appreciation,  "I See You" letters, family meetings and being in the present moment in a way no one else can even come close to touching. 

I'll tell you this, your kids always need you.  They may look as if they can't stand the sight or sound of you, but underneath that display of anxiety is a deep yearning to be seen and heard by you.  In other words, they need you but they can't let you know.  That is, they can't let you know until the healing begins.  And when it does, you'll be dazzled by the results. 

For details on the parenting tools above, read or listen to my book "Present Moment Parenting: The Guide to a Peaceful Life with Your Intense Child."

And for coaching support in implementing the tools, click here.  

My aim is to help you realize that there's enormous hope for healing childhood anxiety.  Is today your day to get started?

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I See You Letter

“I See You” Letter

Another tool for helping a child with a traumatized brain, or any child who is asking for attention by showing unwanted behavior, is an “I see you” letter. When something is put into writing, it weighs more. The child can read the message without having to hear the adult’s voice, which is more effective because adult voices have sometimes not proven trustworthy in the past. I encourage caregivers to write the letter in a notebook, so the child can write back, if she so chooses, and review the letter at any time. The re-reading can be very healing. When I’ve encouraged other adults to write this type of letter, they’ve told me that they’ve found it later, stashed in a drawer or other safe spot, but never thrown away, which speaks to its significance to the child.

               You can write a letter to a child of any age. If she is old enough to read, just leave it on her pillow. If not, write it out and read it slowly, then hand it to her.

               If the child is so hurt that listening to you read a letter is too much, try posting notes that say what you see in her all over her room. Use the components below to craft your letter or your notes.
               The components of the “I See You Letter” are:

  1. I see what you've been through (in details that are significant to her, maybe just the things you know she remembers). You may want to add, "And other things, too, that we haven't talked about." This could spark a response where she shares more.
  2. In light of your experiences, I realize that none of your recent behavior is your fault. You were just trying to express your pain.
  3. I'm sorry I blamed you when I just didn't realize that your behavior was your pain being expressed.
  4. Together we'll work on making it better, and here's how: ______

An example:

Dear Ana,

I just wanted to tell you what I see when I look at you. I see a kid who has had some very rough experiences. When you were younger, your adults did not do what they needed to do to keep you safe. No child should have this happen, as every child deserves and needs to be kept safe. Your mom left you with people who hurt you, and your dad left without saying why. That must hurt so much. I want you to know that this was never, ever your fault. You were an innocent child.

I see a kid who is sensitive and smart. I see a kid who is amazing at figuring out other people. I so appreciate hearing you express what you know long before others your age can do that. I see a kid with artistic ability, and one who cares deeply for our pets. When I watch you with younger children, I am so impressed with how tender you are.

I realize I have gotten angry with you and yelled when you were upset with me. I now get that you just felt threatened, and you did not mean to hurt my feelings or disrespect me. I’m sorry and I will try very hard not to yell in the future. If I make a mistake and yell (because we all make mistakes), I will apologize and have a do-over, because no one deserves to be yelled at.

If you feel like writing back to me in this notebook, that’s great. Feel very free to do so. If not, I’m fine with that, too. I’m just happy to be able to use this notebook to say what I want to tell you in writing.

I am so happy you are in my life. Thank you for all the gifts you give me, especially your smile.


Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa/Other caregiver

I encourage adults not to ever mention the letter, nor to expect him to say he read it and liked it. For a traumatized child, this may be too much vulnerability. But what often happens is that adults notice a softening in their child, a better attitude, more affection, more focus, and more cooperation. That’s the goal of writing: to see the child clearly, communicate it, allow the amygdala to register that the child is seen and therefore will survive, watch the result in a much more relaxed and relieved child and in an improved relationship. I often describe this process as being “like physics,” as predictable as proven science. It’s truly remarkable how dramatic the results are! And when you think about it, the seeing is the tool for calming the threat alarm. No wonder the child can now function so much more rationally. The more rational front brain is able to work!

I See You Letter