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Breaking Free From Anxiety

Methods to coach your child into developing their own internal voice and strategies for beating anxiety and worry

Expert: Lynn Lyons

Positive Parenting Conference by: A Fine Parent


Defense Mechanisms are strategies we use to protect ourselves from shame, guilt etc. and how to overcome them:

  1. Deflection: This is when we take focus off ourselves and put it on someone else. When we realize that no one is to blame, and how we can manage that, is the first step to overcoming deflection.

  2. The Hulk Syndrome: Blaming the child that they are making you behave / react a certain way - which is NOT the case.

  3. Projection: This is when we project our negative emotions, and our kids bear the brunt of this. We need to find ways to deal with our emotions. Most people don't respond well to being yelled at. Neither do children.

  4. Internal Martyr: The myth that parenting is the only thing in our lives that means something. Ask the family if you are a "martyr", and begin doing things together instead of constantly for your family.

  5. External Martyr: The need for us to be superparents. The external experience that we are portraying, and the need to show that we are the "best", always trying to be perfect. What does it look like to fail? We need to reframe the idea of perfection.


The prefrontal cortex has a higher level of thinking. This is where we "imagine stuff (worry). Constantly thinking "What if?" creates this scenario. This fires up the Medulla and the rest of the body, therefore your body goes into fight / flight mode!

It doesn't always have to be something real per say, so we become alert and imagine what something is going to look like - we anticipate what that worry (or problem) is going to look like - and we begin to feel the physical symptoms of this worry. These symptoms make us feel uncomfortable, and we start working really hard to get rid of them. THAT'S the problem!


How do we deal with this?

  1. Talk to your kids about problem solving

  2. When something makes you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself: Is this a crisis? Is this dangerous? Is this a problem?

Note: It's okay to feel unsure, you are supposed to feel this way (your body is designed to do that), but ask yourself what can you do about it - how do you deal with this? How can we tolerate uncertainty? How do we not elevate a circumstance?


When a child asks a question that seeks reassurance or certainty, we keep giving that reassurance and certainty. Over time, as a result, we enabling worry and anxiety. Therefore a parent should NEVER reassure their child. Children need to develop the skill of internal reassurance. 


Be aware of saying things like "Be careful", "Don't" or "No". When a child hear's these words often, they view the world as a dangerous place and begin to perceive things as being dangerous. As a result, they become more anxious children and people.



Anxiety treats everything like a crisis. Don't say: "What's the worst that can happen?"


As parents, we do things with the best of intentions for our children, but sometimes it has the opposite effect and backfires. How do we help children break free from this anxiety then?


  • STEP 1:

It is not so much the content (WHY worry shows up), but the process. For example, if your child has anxiety about having dogs around, focus on the process of breaking free from tis anxiety, not WHY they are anxious about dogs. You could say something like this to them:

"We're going to do visit Aunty Sue and her dog Spot tomorrow. I bet your worry is going to show up."

  • STEP 2:

Name your worry: Externalize the worry so that the child can get bored with it.

  • STEP 3:

Make it fun and playful.

  • STEP 4:

Talk about the relationship between you and worry. We want to step into uncomfortable situations to practice dealing with the anxiety.

  • STEP 5:

Pretend not to "be scared".

  • STEP 6:

Role Play: Be the "worry" (remember - you gave worry a name in step 2). Your child can practice saying "I'm not going to let you get into the way of what I need to learn" to the 'worry'.

  • STEP 7:

Expect worry to show up in future, acknowledge it when it does, and work through the process above.


How to build resilience:

Show your kids how to be flexible: Use sticky notes to write down how they handled a particular situation.

Example 1: "You wanted to go out to the park, but then the neighbour arrived with an emergency, so you read a book instead."

Example 2: You wanted the blue cup, but because it was in the dishwasher, you took the red one instead."


Have a set of cards printed out of the "process to help children break free from anxiety" that the child carries around, for them to refer to when necessary to assist them in handling a particular situation.

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