“Beyond ‘Don’t Worry’: Why Reassurance Isn’t Enough to Ease Your Child’s Anxiety”

As parents, our instinct is to protect our children from discomfort and distress. When our child expresses anxiety or fear, our immediate response is often to reassure them. We might say things like, “Don’t worry” or “Everything will be okay.” Sometimes that’s all you need to do. I get it. All parents just want to protect them. But only using reassurance as a tool might not always help with their anxiety in the long run.

Listed below are a few suggestions on the reasons and methods for adapting your parenting style.

1. Reassurance Can Become a Crutch

When children receive reassurance from their parents each time they express anxiety, they may start depending on that reassurance to feel calm. As time passes, this pattern can create a cycle in which the child becomes reliant on you to manage and calm their anxieties, hindering their ability to develop self-regulation. Additionally, it may even lead to even more excessive reassurance seeking such as these examples below:

  • Checking behaviour: Did you make sure all the doors are locked? What about the back door? And the upstairs windows, did you check those too?” ( This is an example of children who have nighttime fears).
  • Repeatedly calling you from school to check if they’re alright, and if you don’t answer, bombarding you with text messages. (this can be an example of a child who may have separation anxiety).
  • Asking you to check homework repeatedly to make sure its perfect.
  • Reviewing and re-reviewing with friends how the conversation went to ensure no mistakes were made.
  • Asking you to check sell by dates on food.

2. It Doesn’t Address the Root Cause

Reassurance often addresses the symptoms of anxiety—not the underlying causes. It can calm a child temporarily, but it doesn’t teach them how to manage their feelings or confront their fears. To truly help children with anxiety, it’s important to encourage them to face their fears in a controlled and supportive environment, gradually building their confidence and resilience.

3. It May Invalidate Their Feelings


Sometimes, reassurance can unintentionally send the message that their fears are not valid or important. Telling children phrases such as, “There’s nothing to worry about,” may make them feel as though their emotions are being disregarded. Their feelings are real to them, and this can lead to them feeling alone or not understood in their struggles.

4. Anxiety Might Cling to the ‘What Ifs’

Children with anxiety often have a heightened sense of the potential dangers or what could go wrong, known as ‘catastrophic thinking.’ Reassurance might not be convincing enough for them, as their mind can always find another “What if?” to worry about. This means that reassurance needs to be more about helping them challenge these thoughts rather than dismissing them.

The impact on you as a Parent:

5. It Is Exhausting

The repetitive nature of reassurance-seeking behaviours can be exhausting. Children with anxiety may ask the same questions repeatedly or require the same reassurances multiple times. Each repetition can diminish your patience and increase your frustration, especially when progress isn’t being made.


6.Constant Demand for Attention

Children who seek reassurance frequently may need constant validation from their you to feel secure. This can be draining because the need for reassurance can arise at any time and often requires immediate attention. Parents might find themselves having to pause their activities or disrupt their routines to address their child’s anxieties repeatedly throughout the day.

7.Emotional Toll

Listening to and addressing a child’s fears regularly can be emotionally taxing. Of course, as a parent you naturally want to empathise with your child’s distress, and this shared anxiety can lead to increased stress levels. Over time, this continuous cycle of worry and reassurance can wear down your emotional resilience.

8.Limiting Personal Time

The time and energy spent managing a child’s reassurance needs can significantly cut into the personal time parents have for relaxation or self-care. This lack of downtime can lead to burnout and decreased effectiveness in managing not only the child’s anxiety but also other aspects of parenting.

To mitigate these challenges, it’s important for parents to encourage their children to develop healthy coping strategies and to seek professional help if the anxiety becomes unmanageable. This not only helps the child become more self-reliant but also allows parents to find a more sustainable way to support their child’s emotional needs.


What can Parents do Instead of Using Reassurance

1. Understanding the Fear

The first step is for parents to understand what specific fears are driving their child’s need for reassurance. This might involve fears about safety, making mistakes, or social rejection. Understanding these fears helps in designing effective experiment exercises that directly address the core anxieties. Teach them about the stress response and on how it affects out bodies, thoughts, emotions and behaviour Go to my other blog for more on this Talking Helps: Explaining Anxiety to your Child.

2. Use a Gradual Approach

To help your child manage their anxiety, start by explaining that their anxiety is like a bully trying to control them. Assure them that together, you can beat it with a plan. Sit down together and create a list of anxiety-provoking situations related to the child’s reassurance seeking. Rank these from least to most anxiety-inducing. This hierarchy guides the process, making sure that the child faces their fears in a manageable, step-by-step approach.

You can start by agreeing to provide just one piece of reassurance per situation or per day, depending on what you decide. After a few days or longer, you’ll move to Phase 2, which involves not giving any reassurance at all. When your child seeks reassurance, either from you or another adult like a teacher ( It is good to work with the school if appropriate). You can respond with one of these strategies:

For example, it may be about intruders coming in. You could say something like:

Remember, we agreed that I wouldn’t answer any questions about intruders and we also agreed dad or sister wouldn’t either.

“You know the answer already. I won’t say it again.”

“Your worry wobbler is showing up. What can you do to calm down? Maybe try some deep breathing or remember the positive self talk we talked about last week.

“What do you think you should do?

These responses encourage your child to use their own skills to deal with anxiety, helping them become more independent.

Practice and Repetition

It requires repetition to effectively reduce anxiety. Encourage the child to face their fears repeatedly in a controlled setting until their anxiety begins to decrease. Each successful ” give it ago” reduces the power of the anxiety trigger.

Expect your child not to like it at first.

When you first stop providing reassurance, your child or teen might become very anxious, and it’s common for them to express this through anger, frustration, or even a meltdown. This reaction is normal. It’s crucial to remain consistent and not give in by providing reassurance if you’ve decided to stop. Children and teens can react strongly when they don’t receive the reassurance they’re used to. However, if you stick to your plan, your child will gradually stop seeking constant reassurance and start to manage their anxiety in healthier ways.

During this challenging initial phase, it’s important to support your child in other ways. Spend quality time with them, engage in activities they enjoy, and show them love and attention. This not only helps your child cope with the stress of not receiving reassurance but also strengthens your relationship. It can make it easier for you to stay firm in your approach if you remember the good times you shared earlier, especially when your child might say things like calling you a terrible parent for not answering a simple question.

This can take time but here are some tips for success:

To successfully reduce your child’s reliance on reassurance, it’s essential to have a unified approach:

Involve everyone: Make sure all caregivers/teachers and close family members are on the same page. If your child can get reassurance from someone else, the strategy won’t be effective.

Explain the plan clearly: Choose a calm moment when your child is not feeling anxious to discuss the plan. Explain why you’re doing it and consider involving them in creating a “My Fear Plan” to make them feel part of the process.

Stay consistent: If you give in and provide reassurance even once, your child will learn that persistence pays off. This could make them seek reassurance even more. It’s important to be firm and stick to the plan.

Positive Reinforcement: Acknowledge and encourage the child’s efforts and successes, no matter how small. Positive reinforcement encourages them to continue facing their fears and reinforces the learning of new, healthier behaviour.

Offer rewards: Reducing reassurance can be tough for your child. Motivate them by tying their efforts to small rewards. I prefer things like:

  • More special one-to-one time
  • Choose a family game
  • Choose a tv programme or film
  • Choose a family day out
  • Choose a family meal

Parental Modelling: Children often learn coping strategies by observing their parents. Parents can model healthy ways of dealing with anxiety and uncertainty, demonstrating techniques like positive self-talk, rational thinking, and problem-solving. Go to my other article on Positive Discipline for more ideas on this.

By taking these steps, you’ll help your child become more independent in managing their anxiety.

Professional Guidance

By using some of these techniques, you can help your child learn to tolerate uncertainty and discomfort, ultimately reducing the child’s dependency on constant and excessive reassurance. This approach not only helps in managing anxiety but also promotes resilience and independence.

If you’re concerned about your child’s anxiety or need guidance, please don’t hesitate to contact me for a consultation. I’m here to help both you and your child navigate these challenges. Additionally, if you’re involved with a school or charity, I’m available to conduct presentations for parents on managing anxiety.

Related Posts:

Why Talking About Anxiety Helps

How to manage negative thinking patterns

Unravelling Anxiety Disorders

Recognising the key signs of Anxiety

Your child’s emotional brain


Self-soothe box to help calm down

Night time Fears

Separation anxiety or Disorder

Does my child have OCD?

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