One of the most important things kids need to know about courage and anxiety.

Why we have to change the way we talk about anxiety and courage in kids.

Being brave isn’t about ‘never feeling anxious’. Being brave will always come with anxiety. That’s what makes it brave.

Our kids need to know this. On the outside, courage can look certain, powerful, bold, but it rarely feels that way on the inside. On the inside, it will likely feel like anxiety, worry, nervousness, fear.
If kids expect courage to feel more confident, anything less than that won’t feel okay. This is when anxiety can drive a deficiency story ‘I’m not brave enough/ strong enough/ enough for this,’ or a disaster story, ‘I feel like something bad is going to happen so something bad must be going to happen’. This story will drive kids away from brave behaviour or the important things they need to do. 

When we have conversations that can change the way they think about courage and the way they expect to feel when it’s time for them to be brave, we open the way for a different response.

‘Let me prove it to you.’

It can be hard for our kids to believe that courage comes with anxiety, so let’s show them …

Ask them, ‘Can you think of something you’ve done that was brave?’

Maybe it’s doing something new, maybe going down the big water slide, going to school, going for a sleepover – if it feels brave, then it’s brave. This will be different for everyone.

Then ask, ‘How did you feel just before that brave thing you did?’

They’ll have their words – scared, anxious, terrified, nervous. Explain to them,

‘These are all words for the feeling of anxiety. This is because your amygdala (the magnificent part of your brain responsible for keeping you safe) can’t tell the difference between things that are scary-dangerous (things that might actually hurt you) and things that are scary-safe (things that feel scary, but which are safe – new, hard, brave, growthful important things, things that matter). It’s why going to school or speaking in front of a group of people can feel like you’re getting barrelled by a wave. It’s great that your brain warns you that there might be something tricky ahead of you, but it’s important that you stay in charge of what happens next. Ask yourself – ‘Is this a time for me to be safe and avoid, or is this a time for me to be brave.”

Let’s be clear about what ‘courage’ is about.

Courage is about handling the discomfort of anxiety while moving towards brave. It’s about reading anxiety as a sign that they’re about to do something hard, important brave, not as something to be avoided.

They don’t need to handle the discomfort well, and they can build their brave in tiny steps. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.

The more experience they have feeling anxious and doing brave, the more they will realise that anxiety isn’t something to be avoided – it’s ‘brave’ in action.

But when they’re struggling so much, all I want to do is bundle them up and protect them.

Of course! This is so normal. My gosh I’ve been there too many times with my own kids. Sometimes I’ve given in and scooped them up – absolutely. This is not about perfection.

What’s important is that there are enough times, that rather than supporting their avoidance of the discomfort of anxiety (and by doing that, their avoidance of whatever safe but brave/new/hard/important thing is triggering their anxiety), we hold the space and the expectation that they can handle the discomfort of anxiety – because they can. 

We don’t have to protect them from the discomfort of anxiety. We’ll want to, but we don’t have to. Anxiety often feels bigger than them, but it isn’t. This is a wisdom that only comes from experience. The more they sit with their anxiety, the more they will see that they can feel anxious and do brave anyway. Sometimes brave means moving forward. Sometimes it means standing still while the feeling washes away.

It’s about sharing the space with anxiety, not getting pushed out by it.

Building their brave.

Our job as their adults isn’t to fix the discomfort of anxiety, but to help them recognise that they can handle that discomfort – because it’s going to be there whenever they do something brave, hard, important. When we move them to avoid anxiety, we potentially, inadvertently, also move them to avoid brave, hard, growthful things.

‘Brave’ rarely feels brave. It will feel jagged and raw. Sometimes fragile and threadbare. Sometimes it will as though it’s breathing fire. But that’s how brave feels sometimes.

The more they sit with the discomfort of anxiety, the more they will see that anxiety isn’t an enemy. They don’t have to be scared of it. It’s a faithful ally, a protector, and it’s telling them, ‘Brave lives here. Stay with me. Let me show you.’

One Comment

parag m

Karen Young’s article on “One of the Most Important Things Kids Need to Know About Courage and Anxiety” is a true eye-opener. Her insights on how courage often feels like anxiety and the importance of teaching children to face this bravely is invaluable. It’s a must-read for parents and educators alike. Truly enlightening!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

Honestly isn’t this the way it is for all of us though?♥️

#childanxiety #parenting #separationanxiety
Big feelings can be so beautiful. And so tricky. 

We want our kids to know that all feelings are okay, and we also want to support them to handle those feelings in positive ways. This is going to take time. We were all born with feelings, but none of us were born able to regulate those feelings. That will come with time and lots (lots!) of experience. 

In the meantime, the way we respond to their big feelings and the not-so-adorable behaviour it can drive, can be key in nurturing their social and emotional growth. So let’s talk about how.

Proactive Parents is a community event hosted by @mindfullaus . I’ll be providing parents, caregivers and educators with the skills and tools to better understand big feelings and the behaviour it fuels.

Understanding how to respond when young people are overwhelmed can drive calm and connection over conflict. Ultimately, our responses have enormous potential to build important neural pathways that will strengthen them for life.

This presentation will explore the powerful ways parents and carers can, quite literally, influence the strengthening of the brain in ways that will build self-control, emotional regulation, and resilience in their children for life.♥️

When: Sunday 25 Feb 2024, 10am-2pm
Where: West Gippsland Arts Centre, Vic
Buy Tickets here:
(Or Google: karen young young people and their big feelings west gippsland)
We have to change the way we think about school. When we prioritise academics, it's like building the walls - because that's what we see - before fortifying the foundations.

So many teachers know this, but with the increased focus on reporting and academics, they aren't being given the time and opportunity to build the relationships that will ensure those foundations are strong and steady.

This is why too many kids are falling down at school - not because they aren't capable, but because the necessary foundations for them to do well haven't been laid.

Schools are spending the resources anyway, but reactively on behaviour management, disengagement, reduced capacity to learn.

If we can steer those resources towards building relational safety, so kids feel more seen, valued, cared for, rather than less capable or clever, we'll see a decrease increased academic success, greater engagement, less social struggles, and less behaviour issues. It's just how it is.

First though, we need to value relationships and the way kids feel at school, even more than how they do at school. All kids are capable of their own versions of greatness, but unless they feel safe and cared for at school, we just won't see what they are capable of, and neither will they.❤️
We also need to make sure our teachers feel seen, safe, cared for, valued. Our kids can’t be the best they can be without them.♥️
Separation can be tough! Not just for our kiddos but also for the adults who love them. 

As brutal as separation anxiety can feel, it also comes with transformative opportunities to strengthen your child and build their brave in ways that will serve them now and for the rest of their lives. 

Of course we’d rather our young ones (or ourselves) never feel the tailwhip of separation anxiety, but so many young people are going to experience anxiety at separation from a loved one. It’s part of being human, but it doesn’t have to hurt. 

As their important adult, you have a profound capacity to support them through separation anxiety and help them feel braver, stronger, and closer to you, even when you’re not beside them. Let’s talk about how.

This is information I wish every parent could have.

We want our children to feel loved and supported, but we also want to build their brave so anxiety doesn’t stand in the way of the important, growthful things they need to do.

In this 1.5 hour webinar, I’ll be presenting practical, powerful ways to build bravery when separation feels tough - at school, at bedtime, at drop-off - any time being away from you feels tough.

A recording of the webinar will be available to all registered participants for 30 days following the ‘live’ online event.

To register or find out more, google ‘hey sigmund webinar separation anxiety’ or see here ♥️

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This