Why Lecturing Doesn’t Work with Anxious Children

Let’s say your anxious child grabs a toy away from a friend, your anxious teen is late getting ready for school yet again, or either one acts out in ways they know are wrong. If you’re like many parents, you may immediately start explaining why the action is improper, sharing your insights and knowledge as to why. You may even repeat your point several times, or every time your child engages in that same behavior.

In other words, you may start lecturing your anxious child – an action that may make total sense to you, but generally goes in one ear and out the other for your child.

Lecturing is not the ideal teaching method for anxious children, or any children. There’s a much more effective way to help anxious children see the errors of their behaviors and be more inclined to change.

Why Lecturing Falls Short

Lecturing fails to work with anxious children for two main reasons. One is its tendency to focus on what’s wrong, or the negative side of things. The other is because it does not involve any type of active engagement from the child.

Children, as well as adults, aren’t big fans of hearing what’s wrong with what they’re doing, and that’s exactly how most lectures start. This same concept holds true for other types of “taking at” your anxious child, such as nagging and scolding.

Research has shown that these types of reactions don’t inspire cooperation from children or teens. In fact, it may instead result in annoyance, anger or resentment.

Notice that lecturing, nagging and scolding are described as ways of “talking at” your child, rather than “talking to” them. Lectures typically leave no room for any input from the child, but are rather a monologue of what’s so wrong with their behavior.

Your anxious child may end up feeling bad and stuck, while change is much more apt to happen when your child feels good and eager to grow.

Ask the Right Questions Instead

Encouraging your anxious child to think about and respond to questions about his behaviors has been shown to be a much more effective way to guide children into changing them. And no, the questions should not include things like, “Why did you do that?” or “What’s wrong with you?”

Rather than focusing on what’s wrong or negative about the behavior, effective questions will focus on possible ways your child can produce positive behaviors going forward. Examples include questions such as:

  • What might be a nicer way to play with toys with friends?
  • What do you need to do to be ready for school?
  • What’s a good plan for achieving that, or getting that done?
  • What can you do differently next time the situation comes up?
  • What can we do to stop this from happening again?
  • How can I help you?

Carefully choose a question or two that gets your anxious children to not only think about their behavior, but also how they may change it in the future. You’re giving your child a chance to think, as well as showing confidence in them that they will indeed choose a more positive action.