We are looking not to make the anxiety instantly disappear- but to provide support so they can be more resilient to anxiety and then over time it will dissipate naturally.
During periods of anxiety, the brain pumps a whole load of chemicals into your child’s system designed to help them survive.
Because they are now in survival mode- the logical and rational part of the brain shuts down and the body and mind are now relying purely on instinct- the limbic system is now in charge.
This makes it impossible for your child to think clearly. The same thing happens when you are very angry- imagine at the height of a row if someone told you to just calm down’ your reaction is unlikely to be to very calm!
So we need to bring the child out of survival mode and the grip of anxiety and get their intellectual brain working again so they are able to be rational and logical again.
What do trained pilots do when they face an emergency? They don’t wing it (no pun intended!); they refer to their emergency checklists. Even with years of training, every pilot works through a checklist because, when in danger, sometimes it’s hard to think clearly.
When kids face anxiety they feel the same way. Why not create a checklist so they have a step-by-step method to calm down?
I use PAWS ( for more info on this see the kids section)
Pay attention to how your feel
Ask if it's true
Shake it off
Emotions can cause problems when they become overwhelming but they have a purpose. We don’t want children thinking they are abnormal or wrong for having an emotive response. Children can get anxiety and having anxiety- and we don’t want that.
It is really important to make sure your child understands why we feel emotions so they are able to recognize them and work out if it’s a helpful response.
Anxiety, Depression and Anger are all emotions that our brain uses to protect us from harm. We need to be able to recognize and avoid danger to survive.
If we encounter a wolf – we need our automatic emotional brain to kick in. We need to quickly assess that this is a dangerous situation and for our bodies to react accordingly. In this situation our brain is likely to decide a wolf is a threat, the limbic system would then activate and it would consider what to do- probably run like hell- so the brain would trigger the release of chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline to raise our heartbeat and increase our breathing to allow us to run as quickly as possible.
This response would be correct and helpful.
However, when the same reaction happens in your child when they are faced with say a friends sleepover or going to school, it is not helpful.
Using the Limbic books to have this discussion can be a useful way of starting that conversation, but so can using your own experiences. Do not be afraid to show your child that you can feel vulnerable too. Normalise emotions- after all we are all going to experience them and feeling shame for it, won't help.
Limbic provides a great starting point. After reading the book, get your child to identify their own inner guard dog- maybe even draw them and name them.
The book helps children understand we all have an inner guard dog there to protect us. However they can get out of control and when that happens, we have to take the lead and take back control of Limbic.
You can use Limbic or your own childs character but by making them come to life it can open up a line of communication as they can ‘talk to ‘ their dog.
You can use these characters for role playing- by asking them to think about how Limbic might feel in a scary situation and what they might tell Limbic to help him… so they can tell their own inner dog the same thing.
Personifying worry or creating a character has multiple benefits. It can help demystify this scary physical response children experience when they worry. It can reactivate the logical brain, and it’s a tool your children can use on their own at any time.
You can get them to draw their dog showing different feelings- maybe happy, sad, scared and ask them why he is feeling that way and use this as a way to ask what makes them feel like that too. You can then go on to ask how they make themselves feel better.
We are wired to think negatively. Our Limbic system has to be constantly on alert and take the safest route to keep us alive.
If you think about it- when we were cave men and women and we heard a rustle in the grass, it was better to avoid going any further and choose a different route, then assume it’s the wind and get eaten by a lion!
There is no point Remember, worry is the brain’s way of protecting us from danger. To make sure we’re really paying attention, the mind often exaggerates the object of the worry (e.g., mistaking a stick for a snake). You may have heard that teaching your children to think more positively could calm their worries. But the best remedy for distorted thinking is not positive thinking; it’s accurate thinking. Remind them feelings are not always facts. You cannot believe everything you think because we have tricky brains. Try asking them to become a thought detective using Daisy ( the smart brain).
1) Catch negative thoughts: Imagine every thought you have floats above your head in a bubble just like in the book . Ask your child to write it down. Now, choose one of the worried thoughts like “No one at school likes me.”
2) Investigate the evidence: It is easy to create whole belief systems from one incident. Teach your child not to make judgments based only on feelings. Ask them to think about supporting evidence to that feeling- “I had a hard time finding someone to sit with at lunch yesterday so I don't have any friends” Then ask them to look at the evidence that offers an exception to that belief : “Sherry and I do homework together—she’s a friend of mine.”
3) Challenge thoughts: What would Daisy do? We know from the books that Daisy knows how to take control of her inner guard dog so ask your child what Daisy would say if they told her the evidence. You can take the role of Daisy to help them.
As you know, telling your children not to worry won’t prevent them from doing so. If your children could simply shove their feelings away, they would. But allowing your children to worry openly, in limited doses, can be helpful.
Create a ritual that lasts 10 to 15 minutes where we throw away our worries. During this ritual encourage your children to release all their worries in writing on pieces of A4 paper. During worry time there are no rules on what constitutes a valid worry — anything goes.
When the time is up, turn it's time to float our worries away. You can either turn the paper into paper aeroplanes and watch them fly away or turn them into origami boats and float them on the sea or upstream. for older children, maybe you can have a bonfire in the winter and watch the worries go up in smoke and float away.
However, you choose to float them away the key is that they are gone and there is fun involved in getting rid of them.
We are all guilty of thinking 'What If's' like Oscar- because we listen to our inner Limbic.
In fact, mentally we spend a lot of time in the future. For someone experiencing anxiety, this type of thinking can exacerbate the worry becuase our brains don't know the difference between thinking about it going wrong and it actually going wrong.
Research shows that coming back to the present can help alleviate this tendency. One effective method of doing this is to practice mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness brings a child from what if to what is.
If they are in the grips of worry, fear or anger then ask I discussed you can use PAWS and the app to help them slow their breathing and bring them back to rational thought.
However, one excercise to also help can be to turn the What If's on their head, just like we do with the book. In the book Oscar takes the lead and tells Limbic to think about all the fun they could have instead of the scrarey or bad. So ask your child to write all the things they are worried about - the what if's and then ask them to write down all the good and positive things that might happen in that situation- get them to describe the positives in as much detail as possible. Get them to imagine what they woudl be wearing, how they would feel when it went well, what exactly would that look like.
We are all familiar with the hands on hips power pose and the hands in the air pose when we success in scoring a goal or taking down those bowling pins. However, research has showed, when blind athletes crossed the finish line, they too put their hands in the air, even though they had never seen anyone strike that pose.
In evolutionary terms itwe know animals will often make themselves bigger to ward off potential threats. However, it seems as humans, striking a power pose actually makes us feel more powerful and resilient.
One study asked students to strike a power pose for just 1 mintue before attending an interview- those that did reported feeling more confident int heir interview and performed better than those who did not.
So if your child is worried about entering a situation- teach them a power pose and get them to try it before entering the room. You can do it too!
Watching your child suffer can be painful, frustrating, and confusing. There is not one parent that hasn’t wondered at one time or another if they are the cause of their child’s fear, anger, depression. Here’s the thing, as you now know, our mental health is often the result of multiple factors (i.e., genes, brain physiology, temperament, environmental factors, past traumatic events, etc.).
Please keep in mind, you did not cause your child to be this way, but you can help them overcome it.
Toward the goal of a healthier life for the whole family, practice self-compassion. Remember, you’re not alone, and you’re not to blame. It’s time to let go of debilitating self-criticism and forgive yourself. Love yourself. You are your child’s champion.