Friday, March 27, 2015

Defusing Your Child’s Anxiety with 1 Question

by Renee Jain on March 26, 2015

Anxiety relief for kids

Sixth grade history was a tough subject for me. Anytime Mr. Brown asked a question, I desperately averted my eyes or doodled in my notebook to look busy. Once in a while he called on me anyway. That triggered my anxiety: “What if I get the answer wrong?” “What if everyone laughs at me?” “What if… ?”

I usually hemmed and hawed because even if I did know the answer, I preferred to double-check my response mentally before speaking. Mr. Brown always waited patiently, but there was a boy who sat next to me—let’s call him Lou—who kept his arm raised the entire time I was thinking.

In fact, every time Mr. Brown asked the class anything, Lou flung his arm into the air, leaned over his desk, and hooted like an injured owl until he was called on. Mr. Brown seemed irritated at times, but that never stopped Lou. I often wondered,“How does Lou always get it right?”

It took me a long time to realize that Lou wasn’t actually getting it right. In fact, most of the time, Lou got it wrong because he was simply blurting out the first thing that popped into his head.

One day after class I overheard Mr. Brown speaking to Lou about his behavior: “Lou, I know you’re eager to participate in class, and that’s a good thing. But I want you to try something for me. Think about what you’re going to say for at least fiveseconds before raising your hand. Before you raise your hand, ask yourself: Is this really true?”

That day Mr. Brown inadvertently provided me an incredible tool. His advice helped me begin a process of questioning my own thoughts. I now offer his advice to other children experiencing anxiety: Every single time you have an anxious thought, ask yourself: “Is this really true?”

Why Is This Question an Effective Anxiety Management Tool?

Thoughts pop into our heads all the time. What we know fromresearch is that many of our thoughts are notoriously inaccurate—especially anxious thoughts. Yup, anxious thoughts stink at being right. But why?

From an evolutionary perspective, being a little worried helped us survive. The worried caveman may have been more attuned to the cat lurking in the bush. To make sure the caveman was paying attention, the mind often exaggerated the object of the worry (e.g., mistaking a stick for a snake). This tendency has left an imprint on modern man to magnify what might go wrong.

Here’s the kicker: Even though anxious thoughts may be inaccurate, they still have power. Thoughts have the power to make us feel certain emotionsThoughts have the power to make us behave in certain ways.

For example, I often had the thought, “Everyone in class is going to laugh at me if I get the answer wrong.” That anxious thought made me feel too nervous to speak my mind. And one anxious thought often cascaded into several others that culminated in behaviors such as sulking, withdrawing, or acting out.

Because thoughts have the power to influence our feelings and behaviors, it’s important that we think more in line with reality. So, when your child has an anxious thought, teach them to pause and ask themselves, “Is this really true?”

Children can even put their detective hats on and collect evidence to see whether their thoughts are true. Have them write down all the evidence supporting their thought and all the evidence negating their thought. Then ask them to have a debate—with themselves. The goal here not positive thinking; it is accurate thinking. Accurate thinking helps combat anxiety.

Bonus tip inspired by the work of Byron Katie: If the thought your child has is a question (as opposed to a statement), they can first ask: “How would I feel if this were true?” The answer will most likely generate a thought to which they can then ask: “Is this really true?”

For more anxiety relief tools for children, get our animated series at

This article was originally posted on PsychCentral as The One Question Your Child Should Ask After Having an Anxious Thought.


One of the most powerful techniques to manage child anxiety is something I learned from a man named Chesley.

Chesley loved planes. The first time he ever saw a plane speeding down the runway and rising off the ground, he was awestruck. Chelsey was five years old and he knew right then and there he had to have a life in the air.

Chelsey took his first flying lesson when he was sixteen. A few years later, he joined the U.S. Air Force and went on to become a fighter pilot. Thereafter, he continued to follow his passion into a career as a commercial airline pilot.

By this time, no one ever referred to him by his full name, Chesley Sullenberger; he was simply Captain Sully. That name might ring a bell with you because a few years ago, Captain Sully made international headlines.

You may recall that one day in January 2009, when Captain Sully was making a routine trip from New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina, on US Airways Flight 1549, something terrible happened: the plane collided with a flock of Canadian geese, damaging and shutting down both engines.


Captain Sully knew he had no alternative but to land the plane—on the Hudson River! Over the intercom, he uttered words he never thought he would say on a flight: “Please brace for impact.” Then Captain Sully expertly glided the plane onto the water’s surface and saved all 155 passengers.


When Captain Sully was asked in an interview what he did as soon as he felt the impact with the geese, he said he looked over at his first officer, Jeff Skiles, and asked him to find the emergency checklist.

Hearing this story for the first time gave me pause. Wait. Captain Sully had forty thousand hours of flying time and twenty-nine years of experience, including seven years of flying Vietnam-era F-4 Phantom II jets for the air force, and he needed what? A checklist?! Clearly, Captain Sully was an expert, so why did he need a checklist?

Captain Sully needed a checklist for the very reason we all do when we’re in an emergency situation: Survival instincts kick in. Specifically, our body activates the stress response and the logical part of the brain is put on hold, while the faster, more automated emotional brain is put in charge. This makes it hard to think clearly. In a calm situation, perhaps Captain Sully would remember all the steps to take for an emergency landing of this sort. But this situation was far from calm.

So you’re thinking, nice story. But how does knowing this help a child experiencing anxiety?

Anxiety mimics the stress response. When children are in the throes of anxiety, even if they’ve acquired tools to manage their worry, sometimes it’s hard to remember the steps to take to feel better.

One of the simplest, most powerful things your child can do when he or she is anxious is to use a checklist, or what I like to call a “Chill List.” Every child’s Chill List might be different, based on the techniques that work for him or her. Check out a sample below.


After using a Chill List for a while, your child might have the same reaction Captain Sully had after his emergency landing: “First Officer Jeff Skiles and I turned to each other and, almost in unison, at the same time, with the same words, said to each other, ‘Well, that wasn’t as bad as I thought.’”

Learn more about the best techniques to put on a Chill List and other anxiety relief tips for your kids at

This article was originally posted on PsychCentral as How a Man Named Chesley Can Help Your Child Manage Anxiety.



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