9 Things That Make Anxiety Worse in Kids. Don’t Make These Mistakes.

Avoid These 9 Things that Make Anxiety Worse!

Anxiety is draining. Don’t make anxiety worse.

Are you in the throes of parenting a child with anxiety? If you are, then you know how completely exhausting and frustrating child anxiety can be. It can seem like anything and everything can make anxiety worse. Anxious kids are emotional sponges and are easily impacted by their environment.

As a child therapist I have a pulse on what can make anxiety worse in kids. Here are the top nine culprits.

Here is a countdown of the top 9 things that make anxiety worse:

#1 Punishing them for being afraid

Your kids refuse to go to bed. They think there is something under their bed. They think there is something lurking in their closet. They are convinced a bad guy is going to kidnap them.

You are tired, frustrated and angry. You throw out threats in rapid spitfire. They’ll lose TV. They’ll lose electronics. They’ll lose all privileges. But, NOTHING IS WORKING. In fact, it is getting worse.

Threatening kids when they are anxious doesn’t work. If you were scared of heights and someone said they were going to take away your TV time if you didn’t jump off the high dive – would you? Probably not (unless you are a Netflix fanatic).

Teach kids skills to fight their nighttime anxiety. Don’t discipline it.

#2 TV shows

Anxious kids are constantly observing and remembering everything they see and hear. Anxious kids have a memory that can rival an elephant. If you parent an anxious kid, you already know this, right?

If you want to really make anxiety worse, have your kids watch a tv show that has some of their anxiety themes.

If they are afraid of bad guys – don’t watch crime shows. If they are afraid of germs – don’t watch shows with titles like Medical Mysteries I am pretty sure you have and Germs that Lurk around every corner.

Even if you like watching these shows (with these amazingly catchy titles), anxious ears are listening. Unless you want to deal with a major spike in your kid’s anxiety, watch them behind closed doors.

#3 Urban Legends

Kids love to scare other kids. They love to talk about spooky things. I don’t get it, but they do. As a child therapist, I am privy to the latest and greatest stories that are freaking out your kids.

The oldie but goodie is Bloody Mary. For the last twelve years, I have heard kids week after week talk about how they are afraid of this Mary lady. Unfortunately, this makes anxiety worse – especially in the bathroom.

Other favorite topics include Chucky and Slender man. In the last few years some newer faces on the scene have arrived including Five Nights at Freddy’s and Annabelle.

I cannot stress enough how these stories make anxiety worse. If your child has any of the Five Nights at Freddy’s games, get rid of them! Even if they tell you it doesn’t make their anxiety worse – it does, trust me.

#4 YouTube videos

YouTube is a curse for anxious kids. Nowadays kids like to search everything on YouTube. Unfortunately this feeds right into the fascination with urban legends.

You don’t believe Annabelle is real? Let’s check out what YouTube has to say about it. You don’t think Five Nights at Freddy’ is a real place? Let’s get YouTube’s opinion.

Unfortunately, every idiot out there can make a YouTube video – and they do. Kids are watching them. Telling me they know it is real because their friends showed it to them on YouTube.

The majority of parents I talk to will say, “Well, my kid’s not on YouTube, so I don’t need to worry.” I hear that all the time, but their kids tell me a different story.

Even if your child isn’t accessing YouTube at home, their helpful friends are sharing it with them at school and at their home.

#5 Horror movie trailers

I would love to ban horror movie trailers! They are the source of so many therapy sessions. Kids can’t sleep because they are afraid of a poltergeist, possessed doll or a serial killer. Did they watch the movie? No! They just saw the trailer. I curse you trailers!

#6 News

If you have a child with anxiety, don’t watch the news in front of them. It will make their anxiety worse. Nobody needs a ten-minute highlight of all the worst things that are happening in society.

If you want them to be educated, pull up CNN on the computer and show them videos of stories that aren’t about death, destruction and crime.

#7 Adult conversations

The quickest way to make anxiety worse is for your child to hear all the horrific things that are happening to friends and family around them. The neighbor got robbed? Aunt Carla has cancer?

If your anxious kids don’t need to know about it, don’t talk about it near them. They are listening, even when they act like they aren’t.

#8 Anxious parents

There is nothing worse than adding your own anxieties onto an already anxious kid. Anxious kids are emotional sponges. They will soak up whatever you are oozing. It is important to keep your own anxiety in check around your anxious kids. This can be hard. Here are some tips to help.

#9 Spontaneity

On a whim, you decide to go on a weekend trip. Or maybe you make a spontaneous decision to go out to eat with some family friends. Some anxious kids cannot handle spontaneity. They are plotters and planners who need warning when there will be any sudden changes to their schedule.

If you don’t want to make anxiety worse, tell your anxious kids what is happening as far in advance as possible.

Catering to anxiety vs. helping anxiety

Before we go, I think it is important to touch on the balance between being careful to not make anxiety worse in kids, while also being cognizant of not catering to your child’s anxiety. This is a balancing act for most parents.

Your child won’t live in a bubble, so you can’t protect them from the world around them. However, anxious kids can go their whole lives without having to watch a YouTube video on Annabelle or overhearing a conversation you’re having about their Great Aunt Carla’s cancer.

Use your best judgment. Assess how acute your child’s anxiety currently is and whether it is necessary for your child to be exposed to something that will definitely make anxiety worse.

Do you know what would make anxiety worse for your child? Share it in the comments.

Do you know someone who is raising an anxious child? Share this article with them!


If you know a teen struggling with anxiety, give them the only self-help book teens are likely to read:

This book offers teen help, without the psychobabble. A must read for teens suffering with anxiety and parents who are trying to understand it!

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4 responses to “9 Things That Make Anxiety Worse in Kids. Don’t Make These Mistakes.”

  1. Fantastic ideas – some are counterintuitive. I particularly find the first one helpful as we all tend to sometimes think “If s/he gets a bad reaction (i.e. punishment), s/he won’t want to act/feel that way again” — not true in this case.
    Thanks and love,
    Full Spectrum Mama

  2. Amy says:

    I find that helping my child face the issue that is causing anxiety in a safe way and letting them work through it.
    My daughter is afraid of heights. So we take her up where she can climb rocks or help her walk on the edge of a fence.

    We also play “best and worst case scenario”. What is the worst that could happen. Normally she says, “I could die”. So I have to tell her the worst that could happen is that you fall and get scraped up or hurt your ankle. Best case “She normally says ‘I won’t break my nose.” and I tell her that not only will she not break her nose, but she will be stronger and braver than before and she will be able to do something even ‘bigger’ next time.

    We also don’t let her stop if she fails. We always try to make her stop when she is successful at whatever she is trying to do. That way she ends feeling good about herself and not scared to do it again.

    • Natasha Daniels says:

      Amy I love your approach with your daughter! What an empowering parenting style. Your approach will help foster her strengths and will teach her how to overcome her anxiety. Awesome! Thank you so much for sharing with other readers.

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