How To Comfort A Nervous Child

You can provide security for a child experiencing uncertain situations.
By Reggie Madison
October 12, 2020

Nervousness can overtake your child at a moment’s notice, catching unsuspecting parents off guard. There are foreseeable nervous moments like the first day of school or having to stand in front of people for the first time. But other instances may sneak up on you like when your child is trying to do a project or preparing for a doctor’s appointment or nervousness about what they’ve heard someone say about COVID. Regardless, you’re the best person to help comfort your child when they’re nervous.

Here are some tips on how to comfort your nervous child.

1. Model.

How you handle being nervous provides an example your child can see. Whether it’s before a job interview or a big presentation, when you’re about to meet someone new or make a big decision—these are all situations that can create some nervousness… 

Don’t hide your nervousness. Tell your child you’re nervous and explain how you’re able to make it through your nervous energy so it doesn’t stop you from doing the things you need and want to do. Kids feel comforted when they know they aren’t the only ones to experience something. Much of the nervous energy may stem from your child’s belief that they’re the only one who can or can’t do something. 

2. Name it.

You’re driving your child to school or getting them ready for their first soccer game and you notice your child isn’t talking, they’re crying, or they’re just not acting like themselves. Dr. Dan Siegel, author and director of the Mindsight Institute says, “If you name it, you can tame it.” Help them put a name to what they are feeling. Ask them if they are nervous. 

Explain what nervousness is and see if they can relate. You can show them different emotion words and ask, “Which one of these describes how you’re feeling?” Even helping your child to give their nervous emotion a name like “Charlie” helps give them power over the emotion. By naming it, you help to strip the shame that may come from feeling nervous or fearful about an upcoming situation. “No time for you right now, Charlie!”

3. Be Present.

This isn’t the time to leave your child alone or try to avoid the issue. When you’re nervous your mind has a difficult time getting settled about an upcoming experience. As a parent, you can help your child put words and expressions to those thoughts and also let them know that they are still accepted in the midst of their nerves

Your relationship is not dependent on them always feeling comfortable. In fact, your bond strengthens when they know that when they are feeling uneasiness about something, their parents will be there to listen, understand, and help them.

Related: Is My Stress Level Affecting My Child?

4. Walk your child through solving the problem.

If there’s a problem to be solved, then help your child solve it. Don’t do it for them. Try not to allow them to simply avoid it. You can’t avoid your first day of school or first soccer game forever, even though you’re nervous. 

 Ask them about their options. What can they do? What do they have control over? Help them imagine the positive results that can happen if they do their best.

5. Be Patient…

Being a safe space to provide comfort to your nervous child means not rushing them. There’s a fine line between letting them sit in their nervousness and moving slowly toward overcoming it. 

Even though children can get paralyzed by nervousness because of seemingly trivial matters, you still have to show empathy. It is very real to your child. Taking the time to help them understand and express it before rushing to help them get over it may be the key to them trusting you to both comfort them and believe that you are helping them do what’s best for them.

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6. Reward and Celebrate!

There are lots of benefits to celebrating and rewarding your child who has not allowed their nervousness to stop them from doing what needed to be done! 

  • Rewarding and celebrating helps you take advantage of the teachable moments presented by nervousness. 
  • It helps your child see that doing what’s good and what’s right gives them more satisfaction than being controlled by your worry and uncertainty. 
  • It connects the experience with a positive memory. Remember, the full sequence started with your child being nervous about going to school. They went to school. Afterward, they got ice cream with mom to celebrate overcoming their nervousness. The memory ends with a smile not feeling bad about being nervous
  • Chance to spend time with mom or dad. (Or both!) That’s a reward that keeps on giving. Celebrating by going to the park, playing, or sharing their favorite treat encourages them through the current instance and is a good touchpoint the next time they experience the same emotion.

Children will inevitably experience nervousness at some point. As parents, you want to help your child know that there’s nothing wrong with being nervous. But you can overcome your nervousness and still do great things! Your relationship with your child is the best security blanket for a child experiencing uncertain situations. They know for certain, they are not alone.

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