6 Ways Reassurance Can Actually Make Children’s Anxiety Worse

For children who are anxious, constantly asking for reassurance or repeating worrying thoughts is a typical part of daily family life.

Of course, it’s natural to want to reassure your child when they are worried about something…

But when the worry is irrational, constant reassurance could actually be making it worse.

Here are six ways that excessive reassurance can worsen anxiety in children:

1. Excessive reassurance is a “band-aid” solution that leads to more reassurance-seeking.

Since reassurance offers temporary relief, children learn the only way to reduce their anxiety is to seek reassurance from an adult.

2. This reinforces the idea that the child is unable to cope with anxiety.

And they always need adult help to deal with unpleasant emotions.

3. Reassurance sends a message to the brain that worrying thoughts must be important.

And these thoughts demand immediate attention.

Instead, we want children to learn that not all thoughts are equally important, or worthy of attention.

4. Repeated reassurance can communicate lack of confidence.

When we believe in a message that we’re sending, we tend to keep it short and simple.

You want to show your child that you believe in their ability to handle a situation.

A brief and confident statement of support, such as “You’ll be fine!” is better than several comments delivered with uncertainty or frustration.

5. Reassurance can serve as a “false preparation strategy”.

Offering reassurance too early or when it’s not even necessary encourages an anxious child to jump to the wrong conclusion…

For example:

“Dad just said I’ll be okay at the party tomorrow. Why wouldn’t I be okay? There must be something for me to worry about! I’d better prepare myself by thinking about all the possible things that will go wrong!”

This is particularly important because worriers often hold the false belief that worrying can prevent bad things from happening.

Worriers often believe that if they think about all of the terrible things that could possibly happen, when something does eventually happen they will somehow be better equipped to cope with it.

But imagining a car crash when a loved one is ten minutes late does not prevent it from happening.

And, in the unlikely event an accident did happen, mentally rehearsing how to react wouldn’t lessen the impact.

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m really glad I spent so much time worrying about a possible car crash! Now that it’s happened I feel much better prepared.”?

6. Reassurance-seeking can be addictive.

Anxious children tend to require more and more reassurance over time to get the same soothing effect. It can easily become a compulsive behaviour.

But children need to learn that they can comfort themselves without always relying on adult help.

And this is a vital skill for healthy emotional development.

So how can parents help children achieve this?

Practise offering just one brief, calm and confident reassuring statement.

Don’t get caught into the “anxiety loop” of constantly reassuring your child that things are ok.

By the time you’ve reassured them more than two or three times, the message gets watered down and by this point your child is not actually listening to the message anyway.

Encourage your child to use coping strategies like positive reframing, slow mindful breathing and looking for the facts in a situation.

Remember, worry is a misuse of your imagination.

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