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Is your child acting angry or defiant? She might actually be feeling this instead.

Anger and defiance often mask deeper emotions, especially in young children who don't have the language to voice their feelings.
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Last Updated
April 22, 2019
posted on
April 29, 2022
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6 min
Minute Read

Worry and anxiety are all too familiar to us as adults. We worry about work, money and relationships. We suffer from chronic anxiety triggered by a traumatic event. We worry about our kids. A lot. But sometimes we forget that our kids worry too, even our younger kids.

I recently sat down with my friend Dr. Joshua Straub to talk about kids and worry on my Parenting Great Kids podcast. Joshua and his wife, Christi, co-wrote What Do I Do with Worry?, a children’s book that helps kids put language around their worries and learn how to let them go.

Joshua says he and Christi began noticing worry in their own kids manifesting as other things like anger and disobedience. Once they sat down and began talking to their kids, they realized that the defiance and anger were often masking a different feeling, such as embarrassment, that caused their children to worry.

All children worry, even younger children. They worry about school, being bullied or soccer practice. They worry about whether or not they will belong. They worry that you’re going to make broccoli for dinner. They worry that their grandma is going to get sick. You may not think your child worries because most kids don’t know how to vocalize their worries but trust me, they worry.  

The good news is you can help with their worries. Joshua and Christi’s book provides excellent guidelines for how kids can deal with their worries and how parents can help them.

Say worries out loud.

“Kids don’t have language for [their worries],” Joshua says. “They don’t know how to voice their worries.”

When you take the time to sit down and ask your child what he’s worried about, it will give him great relief. This is because, as Joshua explains, when we put language around our worries, fears and what ifs, our brains calm down. They can get out of fight, flight, or freeze mode and do something called neural integration, which binds language to our experience and makes us feel calmer.

When you encourage your child to voice her worries, her brain will literally calm down, helping her worry less.

Release the “worry birds.”

After your child has voiced his worries, encourage him to do what Joshua and Christi say in the book: release his worry birds. Tell him to give his worries to God or to let you worry about something that he shouldn’t be worrying about. When children can “land” their worries somewhere, their worries don’t weigh them down anymore.

Be honest when you know you’re not in control of the “big” worries.

Inevitably, your young child will come to you with a big worry or concern. Grandma is sick and she’s afraid grandma is going to die. Or she’s afraid she’ll get COVID or that you’ll get COVID and you won’t be able to take care of her.

Instead of giving your children false promises (Grandma isn’t going to die or None of us is going to get COVID), Joshua encourages parents to be honest that there are some things we can’t control. What we can control is what we do with our worries: voice them and release them. Remind your kids that you love them, your spouse loves them, they have teachers, coaches and friends who support them and will be there for them if anything happens.

I strongly encourage you to listen to my full conversation with Dr. Joshua Straub here. All kids worry. All parents worry. But if we can articulate those worries and surrender them to something greater, our worries don’t have to consume us or our kids.

Dr. Meg Meeker, MD

Practicing pediatrician, parent, grandparent, coach, speaker, and author. Say hello @MegMeekerMD

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