Raising Anxious Girls

We all get nervous and anxious sometimes, it’s a simple fact of life. Personally, I get anxious when I step outside my comfort zone at work, or just before a race. As adults, we learn to cope with anxiety, and all that comes with it. But as a child, dealing with anxiety can be confusing and frustrating.

How do you reason with a child who tells you she doesn’t want to go swimming, even though you know once she’s in the water she’ll love it – just like last week?

My daughter struggles from frequent anxiety, fear, and worry. Initially, I didn't know what to say to her. How do you reason with a child who tells you she doesn’t want to go swimming, even though you know once she’s in the water she’ll love it – just like last week?

From experience, I’ve found the best way to deal with my daughter's anxiety is to allow her to worry. Rather than trying to reason with her and eliminate the worry entirely, I've changed my tack: teaching her to manage and overcome her worries. Instead of trying to avoid situations that will make her anxious, I do my best to bring out her bravery in those moments of fear.

Here are some supportive and encouraging phrases I’ve found useful:

“How big is your worry?” 

Knowing the size of my daughter's concerns gives me a starting point in helping her to overcome it. Because my daughter is a visual learner, I gauge her anxiety level by holding my hands a short distance apart and asking “this big?” while stretching my arms out until she stops me. Once I understand just how fearful and anxious she is, I know where to begin. 

“Tell me about it” 

Simply talking about the things that worry us can reduce fear. Let your daughter talk about what is worrying her without interrupting, offering solutions, or trying to fix it. Ask questions to clarify her feelings, but otherwise simply let her talk through it. Simply speaking about the issue helps to break it down into bite size pieces, and helps her to understand her own concerns.

“What would you tell your worry?”

Personify her worry. What does it look like, and what would you say to your worry? Allow your daughter tell her fears whatever she wants or needs to, without direction - whether it’s a tearful testimony of how she feels or telling her worries “get lost, I don’t like you!”

“It is scary, and…” 

The next most important step, I feel, is acknowledging your daughter's fear. Justifying her experience in finding something scary can help ease her anxiety. Always try to follow “It is scary” with an "and" rather than a "but". You can add “and I’m here with you”, “and we can face it together”, or any empowering phrase you find works with your daughter.

“What do you need from me?” 

Let your daughter tell you what she needs from you, rather than assuming. More often than not, I find it’s something as simple as a hug.

If the moment gets tense and stressful, remember: you are the expert on your daughter. Together you can find exactly what she needs to stay calm and feel encouraged.

Kassia Gardner loves running. As well as running road marathons she’s also an ultra and trail runner. As an Event Director for junior parkrun Kassia is passionate about getting kids moving and believes that sports can empower girls and teach them skills such as teamwork, determination, focus, goal setting and dealing with failure. Her own personal motto is, ‘I don’t need easy, I just need possible!’


Rachel Jacqueline