Why You Don’t Want to Give in to an Anxious Child

Many anxious children tend to act out when they’re in an anxious state, or filled with worry and fear. But those same children may quickly figure out that those anxious outbursts work so well to get what they want, they may mimic anxious behaviors to get their way with just about anything.

This means parents of anxious children need to keep boundaries strong, no matter what. And even in cases where a child is acting out of anxiety, the solution does not necessarily include giving into the child’s demands.

Anxious Behavior vs. ‘Bad’ Behavior

When anxiety is speaking, it wants two things: comfort and certainty. When bad behavior is speaking, it just wants what it wants when it wants it. So, how do you tell the difference? And how do you know how much to tolerate?

Draw the line at common sense. If your anxious child is displaying unacceptable behavior you wouldn’t tolerate from anyone else, don’t tolerate it from your anxious child.

A few examples on this list may include:

  • Hitting, biting, being aggressive
  • Screaming at you and everyone around you
  • Demanding you do whatever they ask
  • Disregarding the family rules whenever they please
  • Constantly throwing tantrums or other large displays of displeasure

If any of these unacceptable behaviors crop up, it’s important to hold your ground and keep your boundaries firm. Giving in at such moments only serve to reinforce the bad behavior works. Anxious children can quickly learn that if such behavior gets them what they want in one situation, it may work just as well in others.

That means the initial behavior, which may have very well stemmed from anxiety, may start being used in any situation where children are determined to make something go their way. Sometimes brothers and sisters can even catch on, and start using similar behaviors to get what they want, too.

While it’s true the behaviors can become so constant that it may seem easier to just give in – it’s imperative that you don’t. Doing so only reinforces the obnoxious behavior as a way of gaining control, and your children will just gain more and more of it if you keep giving in.

How to Keep Boundaries Strong

Rather than giving in to anxious behavior, establish a game plan for dealing with it. The most important thing is to stay calm, always. Staying calm in the midst of an emotional outbreaks sets a strong example for the type of behavior you want to see. It also helps you stay cool, calm, collected and able to deal with the situation – not just emotionally react to it.

Keep the calmness stable by coming up with a phrase you can use when facing over-the-top behavior. Social worker Lynn Lyons suggests trying something like: “I know you’re worried, and your worry is bossing you around to act like this. But I’m not going to let it boss me around, too.”

While you don’t want to punish the behavior, you do want to stop it. This can be done by removing anxious children from the situation, or distracting them with another activity or idea. Your goal is to ensure your child knows this type of behavior doesn’t work in your family – while modeling new behaviors that do.