One of the most important things kids need to know about courage and anxiety.

Why we have to change the way we talk about anxiety and courage in kids.

Being brave isn’t about ‘never feeling anxious’. Being brave will always come with anxiety. That’s what makes it brave.

Our kids need to know this. On the outside, courage can look certain, powerful, bold, but it rarely feels that way on the inside. On the inside, it will likely feel like anxiety, worry, nervousness, fear.
If kids expect courage to feel more confident, anything less than that won’t feel okay. This is when anxiety can drive a deficiency story ‘I’m not brave enough/ strong enough/ enough for this,’ or a disaster story, ‘I feel like something bad is going to happen so something bad must be going to happen’. This story will drive kids away from brave behaviour or the important things they need to do. 

When we have conversations that can change the way they think about courage and the way they expect to feel when it’s time for them to be brave, we open the way for a different response.

‘Let me prove it to you.’

It can be hard for our kids to believe that courage comes with anxiety, so let’s show them …

Ask them, ‘Can you think of something you’ve done that was brave?’

Maybe it’s doing something new, maybe going down the big water slide, going to school, going for a sleepover – if it feels brave, then it’s brave. This will be different for everyone.

Then ask, ‘How did you feel just before that brave thing you did?’

They’ll have their words – scared, anxious, terrified, nervous. Explain to them,

‘These are all words for the feeling of anxiety. This is because your amygdala (the magnificent part of your brain responsible for keeping you safe) can’t tell the difference between things that are scary-dangerous (things that might actually hurt you) and things that are scary-safe (things that feel scary, but which are safe – new, hard, brave, growthful important things, things that matter). It’s why going to school or speaking in front of a group of people can feel like you’re getting barrelled by a wave. It’s great that your brain warns you that there might be something tricky ahead of you, but it’s important that you stay in charge of what happens next. Ask yourself – ‘Is this a time for me to be safe and avoid, or is this a time for me to be brave.”

Let’s be clear about what ‘courage’ is about.

Courage is about handling the discomfort of anxiety while moving towards brave. It’s about reading anxiety as a sign that they’re about to do something hard, important brave, not as something to be avoided.

They don’t need to handle the discomfort well, and they can build their brave in tiny steps. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.

The more experience they have feeling anxious and doing brave, the more they will realise that anxiety isn’t something to be avoided – it’s ‘brave’ in action.

But when they’re struggling so much, all I want to do is bundle them up and protect them.

Of course! This is so normal. My gosh I’ve been there too many times with my own kids. Sometimes I’ve given in and scooped them up – absolutely. This is not about perfection.

What’s important is that there are enough times, that rather than supporting their avoidance of the discomfort of anxiety (and by doing that, their avoidance of whatever safe but brave/new/hard/important thing is triggering their anxiety), we hold the space and the expectation that they can handle the discomfort of anxiety – because they can. 

We don’t have to protect them from the discomfort of anxiety. We’ll want to, but we don’t have to. Anxiety often feels bigger than them, but it isn’t. This is a wisdom that only comes from experience. The more they sit with their anxiety, the more they will see that they can feel anxious and do brave anyway. Sometimes brave means moving forward. Sometimes it means standing still while the feeling washes away.

It’s about sharing the space with anxiety, not getting pushed out by it.

Building their brave.

Our job as their adults isn’t to fix the discomfort of anxiety, but to help them recognise that they can handle that discomfort – because it’s going to be there whenever they do something brave, hard, important. When we move them to avoid anxiety, we potentially, inadvertently, also move them to avoid brave, hard, growthful things.

‘Brave’ rarely feels brave. It will feel jagged and raw. Sometimes fragile and threadbare. Sometimes it will as though it’s breathing fire. But that’s how brave feels sometimes.

The more they sit with the discomfort of anxiety, the more they will see that anxiety isn’t an enemy. They don’t have to be scared of it. It’s a faithful ally, a protector, and it’s telling them, ‘Brave lives here. Stay with me. Let me show you.’

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Thanks so much @maggiedentauthor♥️…
“Karen Young - Hey Sigmund has such a wonderful way with words especially around anxiety. This is her latest beautiful picture book that explains anxiety through the lens of the Polyvagal theory using the metaphor of a house. This shows how sometimes anxiety can be hard to notice. I think this book can help kids and teens better understand stress and anxiety. I loved it! This would be great for homes, schools and in libraries.
Congratulations Karen.💛”
Of course we love them, no matter what - but they need to feel us loving them, no matter what. Especially when they are acting in unlovable ways, or saying unlovable things. Especially then.

This is not ‘rewarding bad behaviour’. To think this assumes that they want to behave badly. They don’t. What they want is to feel calm and safe again, but in that moment they don’t have the skills to do that themselves, so they need us to help them. 

It’s leading with love. It’s showing up, even when it’s hard. The more connected they feel to us, the more capacity we will have to lead them - back to calm, into better choices, towards claiming their space in the world kindly, respectfully, and with strength. 

This is not about dropping the boundary, but about holding it lovingly, ‘I can see you’re doing it tough right now. I’m right here. No, I won’t let you [name the boundary]. I’m right here. You’re not in trouble. We’ll get through this together.’

If you’re not sure what they need, ask them (when they are calm), ‘When you get upset/ angry/ anxious, what could I do that would help you feel loved and cared for in that moment? And this doesn’t mean saying ‘yes’ to a ‘no’ situation. What can I do to make the no easier to handle? What do I do that makes it harder?’♥️
Believe them AND believe in them. 

‘Yes this is hard. I know how much you don’t want to do this. It feels big doesn’t it. And I know you can do big things, even when it feels like you can’t. How can I help?’

They won’t believe in themselves until we show them what they are capable of. For this, we’ll have to believe in their ‘can’ more than they believe in their ‘can’t’.♥️
Sometimes it feels as though how we feel directs what we do, but it also works the other way: What we do will direct how we feel. 

When we avoid, we feel more anxious, and a bigger need to avoid. But when we do brave - and it only needs to be a teeny brave step - we feel brave. The braver we do, the braver we feel, and the braver we do… This is how we build brave - with tiny, tiny uncertain steps. 

So, tell me how you feel. All feelings are okay to be there. Now tell me what you like to do if your brave felt a little bigger. What tiny step can we take towards that. Because that brave is always in you. Always. And when you take the first step, your brave will rise bigger to meet you.♥️
#anxietyinkids #consciousparenting #parentingtips #gentleparent #parentinglife #mindfulparenting #childanxiety #heywarrior
If anxiety has had extra big teeth lately, I know how brutal this feels. I really do. Think of it as the invitation to strengthen your young ones against anxiety. It’s not the disappearance of brave, or the retreat of brave. It’s the invitation to build their brave.

This is because the strengthening against anxiety happens only with experience. When the experience is in front of you, it can feel like bloodshed. I know that. I really do. But this is when we fight for them and with them - to show them they can do this.

The need to support their avoidance can feel relentless. But as long as they are safe, we don’t need to hold them back. We’ll want to, and they’ll want us to, but we don’t need to. 

Handling the distress of anxiety IS the work. Anxiety isn’t the disruption to building brave, it’s the invitation to build brave. As their important adult who knows they are capable, strong, and brave, you are the one to help them do that.

The amygdala only learns from experience - for better or worse. So the more they avoid, the more the amygdala learns that the thing they are avoiding is ‘unsafe’, and it will continue to drive a big fight (anger, distress) or flight (avoidance) response. 

On the other hand, when they stay with the discomfort of anxiety - and they only need to stay with it for a little longer each time (tiny steps count as big steps with anxiety) - the amygdala learns that it’s okay to move forward. It’s safe enough.

This learning won’t happen quickly or easily though. In fact, it will probably get worse before it gets better. This is part of the process of strengthening them against anxiety, not a disruption to it. 

As long as they are safe, their anxiety and the discomfort of that anxiety won’t hurt them. 
What’s important making sure they don’t feel alone in their distress. We can do this with validation, which shows our emotional availability. 

They also need to feel us holding the boundary, by not supporting their avoidance. This sends the message that we trust their capacity to handle this.

‘I know this feels big, and I know you can do this. What would feel brave right now?’♥️

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