49 phrases to calm an anxious child

It happens to every child in one form or another – anxiety. As parents, we would like to shield our children from life’s anxious moments, but navigating anxiety is an essential life skill that will serve them in the years to come. During my years of studying positive psychology and working as a life coach, I’ve developed many tips for the parents of anxious kids. In the heat of the moment, try these simple phrases to help your children identify, accept, and work through their anxious moments.

1. “Can you draw it?”

Drawing, painting or doodling about an anxiety provides kids with an outlet for their feelings when they can’t use their words.

2.  “I love you. You are safe.”

Being told you will be kept safe by the person you love the most is a powerful affirmation. Remember, anxiety makes your children feel as if their minds and bodies are in danger. Repeating they are safe can soothe the nervous system.

3. “Let’s pretend we’re blowing up a giant balloon. We’ll take a deep breath and blow it up to the count of five.”

If you tell a child to take a deep breath in the middle of a panic attack, chances are you’ll hear, “I can’t!” Instead, make it a game. Pretend to blow up a balloon, making funny noises in the process. Taking three deep breaths and blowing them out will actually reverse the stress response in the body and may even get you a few giggles in the process.

4. “I will say something and I want you to say it exactly as I do: ‘I can do this.’” Do this 10 times at different volumes.

Marathon runners use this trick all of the time to get past “the wall.”

5. “Why do you think that is?”

This is especially helpful for older kids who can better articulate the “why” in what they are feeling.

6. “What will happen next?”

If your children are anxious about an event, help them think through the event and identify what will come after it. Anxiety causes myopic vision, which makes life after the event seem to disappear.

7. “We are an unstoppable team.”

Separation is a powerful anxiety trigger for young children. Reassure them that you will work together, even if they can’t see you.

8. Have a battle cry: “I am a warrior!”; “I am unstoppable!”; or “Look out world, here I come!”

There is a reason why movies show people yelling before they go into battle. The physical act of yelling replaces fear with endorphins. It can also be fun.

9. “If how you feel was a monster, what would it look like?”

Giving anxiety a characterization means you take a confusing feeling and make it concrete and palpable. Once kids have a worry character, they can talk to their worry.

10. “I can’t wait until _____.”

Excitement about a future moment is contagious.

11.  “Let’s put your worry on the shelf while we _____ (listen to your favorite song, run around the block, read this story). Then we’ll pick it back up again.”

Those who are anxiety-prone often feel as though they have to carry their anxiety until whatever they are anxious about is over. This is especially difficult when your children are anxious about something they cannot change in the future. Setting it aside to do something fun can help put their worries into perspective.

12.  “This feeling will go away. Let’s get comfortable until it does.”

The act of getting comfortable calms the mind as well as the body. Weightier blankets have even been shown to reduce anxiety by increasing mild physical stimuli.

13. “Let’s learn more about it.”

Let your children explore their fears by asking as many questions as they need. After all, knowledge is power.

14. “Let’s count _____.”

This distraction technique requires no advance preparation. Counting the number of people wearing boots, the number of watches, the number of kids, or the number of hats in the room requires observation and thought, both of which detract from the anxiety your child is feeling.

15. “I need you to tell me when two minutes have gone by.”

Time is a powerful tool when children are anxious. By watching a clock or a watch for movement, a child has a focus point other than what is happening.

16. “Close your eyes. Picture this…”

Visualization is a powerful technique used to ease pain and anxiety. Guide your child through imagining a safe, warm and happy place where they feel comfortable. If they are listening intently, the physical symptoms of anxiety will dissipate.

17. “I get scared/nervous/anxious sometimes too. It’s no fun.”

Empathy wins in many situations. It may even strike up a conversation with your older child about how you overcame anxiety.

18. “Let’s pull out our calm-down checklist.”

Anxiety can hijack the logical brain; carry a checklist with coping skills your child has practiced. When the need presents itself, operate off of this checklist.

19. “You are not alone in how you feel.”

Pointing out all of the people who may share their fears and anxieties helps your child understand that overcoming anxiety is universal.

20. “Tell me the worst thing that could possibly happen.”

Once you’ve imagined the worst possible outcome of the worry, talk about the likelihood of that worst possible situation happening. Next, ask your child about the best possible outcome. Finally, ask them about the most likely outcome. The goal of this exercise is to help a child think more accurately during their anxious experience.

21. “Worrying is helpful, sometimes.”

This seems completely counter-intuitive to tell a child that is already anxious, but pointing out why anxiety is helpful reassures your children that there isn’t something wrong with them.

22. “What does your thought bubble say?”

If your children read comics, they are familiar with thought bubbles and how they move the story along. By talking about their thoughts as third-party observers, they can gain perspective on them.

23. “Let’s find some evidence.”

Collecting evidence to support or refute your child’s reasons for anxiety helps your children see if their worries are based on fact.

24. “Let’s have a debate.”

Older children especially love this exercise because they have permission to debate their parent. Have a point, counter-point style debate about the reasons for their anxiety. You may learn a lot about their reasoning in the process.

25. “What is the first piece we need to worry about?”

Anxiety often makes mountains out of molehills. One of the most important strategies for overcoming anxiety is to break the mountain back down into manageable chunks. In doing this, we realize the entire experience isn’t causing anxiety, just one or two parts.

26. “Let’s list all of the people you love.”

Anais Nin is credited with the quote, “Anxiety is love’s greatest killer.” If that statement is true, then love is anxiety’s greatest killer as well. By recalling all of the people that your child loves and why, love will replace anxiety.

27. “Remember when…”

Competence breeds confidence. Confidence quells anxiety. Helping your children recall a time when they overcame anxiety gives them feelings of competence and thereby confidence in their abilities.

28. “I am proud of you already.”

Knowing you are pleased with their efforts, regardless of the outcome, alleviates the need to do something perfectly – a source of stress for a lot of kids.

29. “We’re going for a walk.”

Exercise relieves anxiety for up to several hours as it burns excess energy, loosens tense muscles and boosts mood. If your children can’t take a walk right now, have them run in place, bounce on a yoga ball, jump rope or stretch.

30. “Let’s watch your thought pass by.”

Ask your children to pretend the anxious thought is a train that has stopped at the station above their head. In a few minutes, like all trains, the thought will move on to its next destination.

31. “I’m taking a deep breath.”

Model a calming strategy and encourage your child to mirror you. If your children allow you, hold them to your chest so they can feel your rhythmic breathing and regulate theirs.

32. “How can I help?”

Let your children guide the situation and tell you what calming strategy or tool they prefer in this situation.

33. “This feeling will pass.”

Often, children will feel like their anxiety is never-ending. Instead of shutting down, avoiding, or squashing the worry, remind them that relief is on the way.

34. “Let’s squeeze this stress ball together.”

When your children direct their anxiety to a stress ball, they feel emotional relief. Buy a ball, keep a handful of play dough nearby or make your own homemade stress ball by filling a balloon with flour or rice.

35. “I see Widdle is worried again. Let’s teach Widdle not to worry.”

Create a character to represent the worry, such as Widdle the Worrier. Tell your child that Widdle is worried and you need to teach him some coping skills.

36. “I know this is hard.”

Acknowledge that the situation is difficult. Your validation shows your children that you respect them.

37. “I have your smell buddy right here.”

A smell buddy, fragrance necklace or diffuser can calm anxiety, especially when you fill it with lavender, sage, chamomile, sandalwood or jasmine.

38. “Tell me about it.”

Without interrupting, listen to your children talk about what’s bothering them. Talking it out can give your children time to process their thoughts and come up with a solution that works for them.

39. “You are so brave!”

Affirm your children’s ability to handle the situation, and you empower them to succeed this time.

40. “Which calming strategy do you want to use right now?”

Because each anxious situation is different, give your children the opportunity to choose the calming strategy they want to use.

41. “We’ll get through this together.”

Supporting your children with your presence and commitment can empower them to persevere until the scary situation is over.

42. “What else do you know about (scary thing)?”

When your children face a consistent anxiety, research it when they are calm. Read books about the scary thing and learn as much as possible about it. When the anxiety surfaces again, ask your children to recall what they’ve learned. This step removes power from the scary thing and empowers your child.

43. “Let’s go to your happy place.”

Visualization is an effective tool against anxiety. When your children are calm, practice this calming strategy until they are able to use it successfully during anxious moments.

44. “What do you need from me?”

Ask your children to tell you what they need. It could be a hug, space or a solution.

45. “If you gave your­­ feeling a color, what would it be?”

Asking another person to identify what they’re feeling in the midst of anxiety is nearly impossible. However, asking your children to give how they feel with a color, gives them a chance to think about how they feel relative to something simple. Follow up by asking why their feeling is that color.

46. “Let me hold you.”

Give your children a front hug, a hug from behind, or let them sit on your lap. The physical contact provides a chance for your child to relax and feel safe.

47. “Remember when you made it through XYZ?”

Reminding your child of a past success will encourage them to persevere in this situation.

48. “Help me move this wall.”

Hard work, like pushing on a wall, relieves tension and emotions. Resistance bands also work.

49. “Let’s write a new story.”

Your children have written a story in their mind about how the future is going to turn out. This future makes them feel anxious. Accept their story and then ask them to come up with a few more plot lines where the story’s ending is different.

Read more from this author at GoZen

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author wearing waffle house uniform You could not have been more than 4 years old.

Maybe even younger.

I think you were too young to understand what you did. You probably thought you were just giving a random stranger a quick hug. You weren’t tall enough to do any more than wrap your little arm around my leg.

For me, you did so much more than just give a hug.

I was stuck in an anxiety attack that was pushing 15 minutes by the time you changed it. It only took you five seconds to put me at ease. You said something, and I couldn’t understand what it was, but your mother was with you and said, “How sweet.”

I don’t think she knew why you did what you did. She smiled and politely ushered you out the door of the Waffle House where you had just had breakfast. I didn’t seat you and didn’t really see you until that moment.

You may forget this if you already haven’t.

Either way I want to say thank you.

Thank you for doing in five seconds what very well may have taken me the rest of my shift to do.

Thank you for ending an anxiety attack for me and letting me know there are still great people in this world.

Kudos to you, little one, and kudos to your parents for raising such a sweet boy.

Lead photo via Waffle House Facebook.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


There’s a lot about anxiety on the Internet right now. A lot. But with all this content, what issues are we still not addressing? We asked people in our Mighty community who live with anxiety to tell what’s still missing from all the anxiety chatter.

Let’s start a conversation. Here’s what we still need to talk about: 

1. “It can come out of nowhere, even without a trigger, and overwhelm you at any given time. It’s very powerful and scary. Feels like a heart attack, a dizzy spell and a punch in the gut all at once.”

2. “A lot of people with anxiety disorders are in a constant state of anxiety. It’s not something that comes and goes. It’s a 24/7 thing that can’t be turned off or turned down no matter how hard you try.”

3. “‘Anxiety’ is a term used very loosely. It’s not often that people acknowledge just how debilitating it is.”

4. “It’s hard to have a relationship when you have anxiety… anxiety causes low self-esteem and low self-worth and sometimes we push people away because of it.”

5. “Hypervigilance — some of us are super aware of things going on in our surroundings, whether we’re conscious of it or not. This makes some of us easy targets to scare, and it can take a while to calm down from something like being tapped on the shoulder.”

6. “It’s exhausting. Being tense and on edge is physically and mentally draining. It is so much more than just the mind. It affects appetite, behavior, emotions — everything.”

7. “People with anxiety can feel helpless and suicidal. These thoughts are not only associated with other ‘more severe’ mental illnesses.”

8. “The physical issues that come with it. Constipation. The runs. Puking and much more. All the ‘gross’ stuff that no one wants to openly admit.”

9.Violent and tragic intrusive thoughts, like not being able to stop imagining family or friends you care deeply about dying horribly and painfully.”

10. “A panic attack looks different for different people. I’m good at masking them in public, pretending to be part of the conversation, nodding strategically because I can’t even speak.”

11. “Sometimes, once you have it under control, you feel a little less like yourself. It’s so all-consuming that when it’s gone you almost don’t know what to. This little devil sits on your shoulder, and when you’re able to brush him off, you miss the company.”

12. “It’s common for young children to be labeled as ‘bad’ because people don’t understand anxiety disorders in children.”

13. “Nobody talks about how everyone experiences anxiety differently. While I may need space, cold water and a tune to hum when I’m feeling especially anxious, others might need a shoulder to lean on and a peaceful distraction. This lack of conversation is particularly harmful because I and many others often have our experiences with anxiety invalidated when we tell someone that we experience anxiety in a way they may be unfamiliar with.”

14. “The guilt is there even when I’m feeling better. I feel such shame and guilt for all of the broken promises, dropped commitments, jobs I had to quit and events I missed. My anxiety is the thief, but I still feel like I’m at fault.”

15. “The physical part, the rapid heartbeats, the numbness, tunnel vision, being completely fatigued and physically worn out after an episode.”

16. “It gets boring. I have the same obsessive thoughts and worries over and over. I replay situations in my head for hours. I write lists to try to get things out of my head, over and over. I turn molehills into mountains until I can’t think of anything else. I get hung up on one detail and it’s all I can see for days. It’s boring, it’s repetitive and it’s overwhelming.”

17. “It can cause you to snap at people when they’re doing something that triggers you. Then later, when you try to apologize or explain, they don’t understand.”

18. “Even if I take medication, it doesn’t mean I’m suddenly free of panic attacks and anxiety.”

19. “Anxiety can make you jump to a wrong conclusion really fast.”

20. “For me, sex/relationship difficulties stem from anxiety.”

21. “It’s just like depression in the sense that there isn’t necessarily an answer to the question ‘what are you depressed about?’ Depression is an illness. It’s ‘about’ an illness. ‘What are you anxious about?’ Who knows?! I just am. The end.”

22. “Anger can come with the anxiety. I show irritability when my anxiety is high and it makes me seem like an unhappy person. I’m not, I’m just spinning out of control in my own mind.”

23. “It affects every facet of my life. The constant tension, irritability and fear seeps into every part of your daily existence. Snapping at the people you love because they’re doing something making you more tense, sleeping so lightly that every noise wakes you up. Anxiety shapes your day.”

24. “Anxiety is such a powerful emotion. It’s hard to explain how it really truly frightens you to the point where is controls your life. It feels like being in an emotionally abusive relationship with the negative thoughts in your head. No escape.”

25. “Anxiety isn’t always people freaking out externally or imagining the worst case scenarios, blubbering out loud about it. It’s more than that. Anxiety can be silent, unheard and internal. You’re freaking out internally and panicking and sometimes, keeping it all in will result in those moments when we just break down.”

26. “The paralyzing self doubt that comes along with anxiety can manifest itself is procrastination when it comes to doing things with your life or certain tasks. It makes you seem lazy.”

27. “There actually is a level of healthy anxiety that helps us to perform well on tests, in athletics, in school plays or similar. The issue is when it starts affecting your everyday life and stops you from doing the things you love or stops you from being successful.”

28. “We constantly swap and wear masks to hide how we really feel. We are human chameleons and masters of disguise, so other people don’t see our panic and pain.”

29. “It’s a nightmare to find the best course of treatment. Medications can help, but they also have side effects. On the other hand, natural remedies don’t always work the same for everyone. Be patient with us while we are trying to figure out what is best for us.”

30. “The fear of anxiety can also cause it.”

*Answers have been edited and shortened for brevity.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.


I always want to say sorry.

When someone you know or love has a mental illness, it can be really hard on both of you. I am well aware of this, because I know my anxiety can make other people stressed, as if it’s infectious. Depression is the same – if I am sad and full of pessimism, it can influence those around me in the same way. Sometimes, all I can think to say is that I’m sorry.

When an individual is affected by a mental illness, they are often the ones to receive attention; they are the ones to be pitied. But how often do we, people living with mental illness, think about the people in our lives who become our rocks when everything else is crumbling to pieces?

Here are some things that I want to say to those around me, who may not understand what I’m going through, but who love me unconditionally in spite of this piece of my mind.

1. I’m sorry  I don’t always make sense, that I can’t always articulate how I’m feeling, how I’ve cancelled our plans and ruined our day, how I am cripplingly insecure, how I push you away, how I can’t understand myself— I’m sorry.

2. Thank you – for being there during good times and bad times.

3. You are important too. If you need me, I’ll be here.

4. You are so strong – never underestimate yourself.

5. I know my thoughts aren’t always logical, you don’t have to tell me that.

6. Please be patient with me.

7. I’m not crazy.

8. Try not to change plans at the last minute.

9. Please don’t be angry if I change plans at the last minute.

10. It is an illness, it isn’t “all in my head.”

11. Be honest with me.

12. Be prepared for what to do if I have a panic attack. It’s not pretty.

13. Be prepared for a hundred ‘to-do’ lists.

14. Talk to me – this can’t be an elephant in the room.

15. Forgive me.

16. Research as much as you can about what I’m dealing with.

17. Listen to me.

18. I love you.

There are a hundred other things I want to say to you, to ask of you, but this is enough for today. One day at a time, we can get through this. I am so passionate; I am able to feel emotions so incredibly strongly. This means the bad times are awful but the good times are amazing. Yes, I feel hurt and pain and insecurity and fear, but I also feel passion and love and loyalty. These emotions are the ones I’m proud of, and I want to use them as fuel to make our relationship a good one.

Follow this author’s journey on Piece of Mind


I felt like the worst mother in the world and I yearned for the days when an Arthur Band-Aid and a kiss would heal any hurt. This kind of pain, this kind of struggle made me feel helpless. Although we were getting help, the progress was slow and laborious. Surely there was something left in my mama bag of tricks I hadn’t yet tried, if only I could think of it.

Since my daughter Brooke and I have been open about her battle with anxiety, she’s had the privilege to walk with a number of friends who are experiencing similar kinds of problems. As we were talking yesterday about the kinds of conversations she has had with friends who are hurting, I asked her what she told them. How did she help? She offered these profound words:

I just remember what I wanted to hear.

So I asked her, Tell me. What did you want to hear when you were struggling?

Here are five loving messages she shared with me that might help you with someone you love who is struggling with anxiety: 

1. “I understand what you are saying.” 

Be present and listen. Listen with your whole self. Practice active listening skills by responding with words and phrases which indicate you hear what they’re saying and understand. While there may be a time for figuring out solutions, the most loving response initially is to listen without trying to fix the problem. If what they say is difficult to hear, be brave and try not to react in a way which might shut down the sharing. Some phrases which indicate you are listening might include:

  • “Tell me more about that.”
  • “I’m listening.”
  • “It sounds like you feel…”
  • “That must be hard/scary/difficult.”
  • “What is the hardest part of this for you?”
  • “What would make this easier?”
  • “How can I help?”

2. “You aren’t losing your mind and you won’t always feel this way.” 

When we feel intensely painful feelings, sometimes our greatest fear is that we will get stuck in this awful place and be lost there forever. Part of learning to manage difficult feelings is understanding that feelings are not forever. Feelings always pass. Feelings come in waves and sometimes it seems as if we are drowning in them. Knowing and understanding the temporary nature of feelings gives us courage to keep our head above water and continue fighting our way back to dry land.

3. “I’m here, no matter how bad it gets.” 

When Brooke was so miserable and sick, we continually told her we were in this together. However long it took, we would get through it as a family. The fight wasn’t just her battle, it was our battle. We wanted her to know there would never be a point when we would give up and walk away. As a parent, this seemed so obvious we shouldn’t have to say the words out loud. Yet, for the person who is struggling, these reassurances from friends or family are a lifeline of hope. Everyone, at some point in their life, desperately needs to hear the words “you are not alone.”

4. “This isn’t your fault.”

People who are struggling with emotional issues or mental illness often believe what they’re experiencing is a sign of weakness of character. If they were just strong enough, they could snap out of it. For many people of faith, this sense of guilt and responsibility runs even deeper. If I only had enough faith, if I only prayed more, if only I was a better person, I wouldn’t feel this way. Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues are illnesses which require treatment. Helping your loved one understand they are not to blame for their illness is a gift of love.

5. “I love you, so don’t give up.” 

Lost in hopelessness and despair, a person who is struggling may begin to wonder if it is worth fighting. Thoughts of ending the pain become tempting. If this is the life I am destined to live, why even bother? My family and friends will be better off without me. While we may be hesitant to broach such an incredibly difficult topic, if there is any question at all, it is always better to ask to make sure our loved one is safe. Suicidal or self-harming thoughts are sometimes a symptom of depression, and we want to take every opportunity to reassure our friend or family member how much we care about their safety. They need to know their lives are valuable and worthy of the battle. They need to hear us say we love them and we are willing to fight by their side to help them find their way to the other side.

The messages above were Brooke’s five very wise and loving suggestions. Here is one more from me.

“I see your hard work to get better. I know how hard you are trying. You are so brave and I am so proud of you.”

Kelly and her daughter, Brooke, embrace
Kelly and her daughter, Brooke.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Follow this journey on Grace Notes.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


Dear anxiety:

You make me feel like a hollow shell of who I really am.

You make me feel like less of a person.

You make me feel isolated and alone.

You make me doubt my faith.

You make me question everything.

You make me miss important life events.

You make my heart pound.

You make me feel faint.

You make my head hurt.

You make my stomach ache.

You make my body sick.

You make my spirit sick.

You make my life toxic.

You make me feel like less of a mother.

You make me feel like less of a wife.

You make me realize I need help.

You make me realize I don’t have to live this way.

You make me determined to overcome.

You make me determined today is the day.

You make me determined you will not win one more moment of
me.

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