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16 ‘Harmless’ Comments That Hurt Kids With Anxiety

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Growing up, a lot of us don’t have the language to effectively communicate what we are thinking and feeling. Words kids have access to like “sad,” “mad” or “bad,” often don’t cut it when trying to explain complex emotional experiences.

This is something many adults who grew up with anxiety can relate to. Sometimes a child’s body communicates anxiety before their brains do. According to Harvard Health, children with anxiety may experience stomachaches, headaches, sleep disturbances and have a heightened startle response.

When a child finally does find the words to express they are struggling with anxiety, it’s important to meet them where they are by validating that their experience is real and praise them for opening up. Unfortunately, this is not the experience every child has.

Sometimes, kids with anxiety are met with “harmless” comments that actually hurt a lot. Comments like, “What do you have to be anxious about?” or “You’re not anxious, you’re just being rude,” can invalidate the real struggles a child is facing.

We wanted to know what “harmless” comments kids with anxiety hear too often, so we asked our mental health community to share things they heard growing up. If you can relate, you’re not alone.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

1. ‘It’s like you’re looking for reasons to be anxious!’

“‘You’re constantly looking for things to worry about, You realize you’re doing this to yourself right?’ The saddest part is I believed it… Maybe I am just looking for reasons to be anxious. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with me at all.” — Daniella D.

‘You’re not happy unless you have something to worry about.’” — Deborah S.

2. ‘Oh, you’re fine.’

“‘Oh, you’re fine.’ Constantly dismissed about my emotions and feelings. I started to believe they didn’t matter and to conceal and not to feel, as if emotions are bad if they aren’t positive emotions.” — Patricia L.

“‘You’re fine! Why do you always assume the worst and set yourself up?’ Just put a smile on your face.” — Mackenzie E.

3. ‘Why are you being so rude?’

“‘Why are you being so rude? These are adults, you have to have manners.’ It’s not that I didn’t have manners, I just was so anxious that I couldn’t talk or breathe or look at people. I remember distinctly my friend’s grandmother really didn’t like me because she thought it was disrespectful that I didn’t look her in the eye and barely talked. I was 14. I still feel shame occasionally from it, but I’m working on it.” — Julie V.

“As a child, and even now, my anxiety stemmed from sudden loud noises. One time, in music class, the teacher was reading a story and shouted a line out — After that, I covered my ears every time she read. Other kids would tell me, ‘That’s so rude.’ Fast-forward 15 years and I’m now a musician, but still can’t stand loud noise.” — Maria G.

4. ‘You’re such a quiet child!’

“I got so sick of hearing, ‘She is such a quiet little girl.’ No, I wasn’t… inside was chaos and screaming and I was afraid it might come out!” — Margaret K.

First ones I remember were other people talking to my mum about me when I was right there. ‘She’s just shy.’ ‘She’ll come out of her shell.’ ‘Get her into a team sport or dancing…’ But looking back, I wasn’t just ‘shy,’ I was anxious of the whole world around me, and the things mum tried to ‘get me out of my shell’ just made me more anxious because the other kids treated me like a freak.” — Jessie B.

5. ‘If you were less sensitive, it wouldn’t bother you.’

“‘Stop being so sensitive!’ It made me second-guess every one of my own feelings and thoughts. Now I’m a full-grown adult who second-guesses every move, worries over everything and sufferers from severe anxiety and panic disorders.” — Chandler D.

“‘You’re too sensitive, you need to grow a thicker skin…’ Anything to dismiss my feelings and [label] my experience as invalid.” — LeeAnn F.

6. ‘Stop acting like that, nothing is wrong with you!’

“‘Quit acting like that, nothing is wrong with you.’ I suffered in silence growing up, and when I would speak up, I couldn’t always get it across so anyone would understand. Family would tell me nothing was wrong with me, leaving me questioning myself, my thoughts and emotions… I did not know how to process any of it or work my way through my anxiety.” — Felicia B.

“‘Stop breathing like that, it’s annoying!’ In the middle of a panic attack while gasping for air. Sorry it’s so inconvenient for you that I’m struggling to breathe, I can’t control it.” — Mary T.

7. ‘Have you asked God to take your anxiety away?’

“‘You just need to ask God to take it away.’ So I did and questioned whether or not my faith was strong enough because I couldn’t stop my anxiety.” — Mary A.

“‘Pray about it.’ That never worked for me (my anxiety is chronic and treated with medication) and it made me feel guilty as a child, like I wasn’t praying correctly or hard enough.” — Lauren M.

“‘You’re not anxious. Remember the Bible says be anxious for nothing.’ Made me feel ashamed and embarrassed of my anxiety and led me to push it down, which made it worse.” — Hannah M.

8. ‘That’s just life, no need to be anxious about it.’

When I was young and would describe the things that overwhelmed me, the things that gave me anxiety, the thoughts behind my depression, I was met with, ‘That’s just life.’ It really confirmed this belief that this life is something I didn’t want to be apart of, it wasn’t going to get better, and maybe I just wasn’t cut out for it…” — Avery S.

9. ‘You’re the queen of ‘what ifs.’’

“My dad nicknamed me the “‘what if’ queen” because I worried so much. I have pretty bad social anxiety and GAD and tend to ask lots of questions to help ease my anxiety.” — Kellis K.

10. ‘Have you tried…’

‘Why don’t you just…’ Putting ‘just’ in a sentence invalidates and downplays whatever that child is feeling and destroys the confidence it took for them to open up and talk to you about it. It also makes it seem as though it should be easy to manage, when in practice, anxiety is difficult to manage even as an adult, never mind as a child.” — Zoe L.

11. ‘Everyone is anxious these days.’

‘Everyone has a little bit of anxiety, you just need to deal with it.’ My mom to me when I told her I felt like I needed to go see somebody, and on numerous of the car rides to those appointments.” — Krista R.

12. ‘I’ve never met someone as nervous as you!’

“In observance of my many nervous tics, a junior high teacher [said] to me in front of the class: ‘Wow… You’re a really nervous person aren’t you?’ Anxiety was the result of constant psychological abuse from mentally ill mother. No other parent or siblings to come to my rescue. Just another adult calling out my shortcomings.” — Claire B.

13. ‘Why are you always so anxious? Do you have a guilty conscience or something?’

Why do I always feel like something bad is about to happen? ‘Maybe you just have a guilty conscience.’” — Trudy N.

14. ‘Mind over matter.’

‘It’s all in your head. Mind over matter.’ But how do you get your mind in the right space when your mind is the issue? Growing up, I thought something was wrong with me because other people could handle the same situations I couldn’t. I was ashamed and embarrassed to tell anyone. To this day I hate appearing or feeling vulnerable to anyone else.” — Maiwyn S.

15. ‘What are so you afraid of?’

“‘What is there to be afraid of right now? There’s nothing going on!’ Even at a young age, I knew there was nothing physically to be afraid of in those moments, but I couldn’t escape the feeling of fear deep in my gut. I knew something was wrong, I just didn’t know something was wrong with me.” — Katie V.

16. ‘I don’t understand where this is coming from. You have no reason to be upset.’

“Often when I would express sadness after having a fun event with the family, my family would say something like, ‘I don’t understand where this is coming from. We were having a good day just now. There’s no reason to be sad.’ The result was I learned early on that certain feelings require permission to be felt. It’s an unhealthy thing to learn and has taken a long time to unlearn it.” — Brooklyn W.

If you heard any of these “harmless” comments growing up, you’re not alone. To connect with a community that can relate, we encourage you to post a Thought or Question on The Mighty with the hashtag #CheckInWithMe. Whatever you’re facing today, you don’t have to do it alone.

For information on how to support an adult or child with anxiety, check out the following stories from our community:

Originally published: December 5, 2019
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