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Alleviating Kids’ Distress

anxious  red hairded kidParents worry a lot about their kids nowadays. Life has become more complex and the world seems to deliver a constant stream of unpredictable stressors, challenges, calamities, toxins and traumas. Parents naturally want to help their kids overcome these difficulties and succeed in life. In other words, they want their kids to feel happy, secure, and competent.

So naturally, many parents feel quite upset when they see their kids experiencing distress. At those times, they feel highly motivated to help their kids calm down. To accomplish that goal, these parents will often:

  • Explore what may be bothering their kids
  • Reassure their kids that everything will be alright
  • Hug their kids to help them calm down
  • Talk with their kids for as long as it takes to help them feel better
  • Find ways of making their kids feel better by giving them things they want (e.g., ice cream, money, etc.)

Generally speaking, one or more of these strategies will, in fact, result in both kids and their parents feeling better. There can’t be any problem with that can there? Well, actually there is.

As wonderful as these techniques make everyone feel in the short run, they usually make things worse in the long run. That’s because these actions end up putting responsibility for dealing with unpleasant emotions on parents’ shoulders and off of their kids. In addition, they deliver the message to kids that “You need us, your parents, in order to cope with and handle difficulties.”

With messages like that, kids learn to expect their parents to bail them out of every difficulty and will often become either frightened, distraught, or rageful if their parents fail to do what they want.

The alternative to alleviating every instance of children’s distress is grist for another blog. However, in general, it’s important to allow kids to experience frustration and difficulties and learn that somehow they will get through them. It may take a while, but they will survive. In addition, it’s a good idea to reinforce kids for any efforts they make to cope on their own.

NOTE: This advice does not suggest that the strategies listed above are always wrong and never appropriate. The problem lies in turning to them too often and in large doses. For example, there’s nothing wrong with occasionally asking kids what’s bothering them. It’s also alright to reassure them a bit from time to time. But when parents try to remove all distress from their kids, they end up teaching the wrong things.

Anxious kid photo available from Shutterstock.

Alleviating Kids’ Distress

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D.

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and a Founding Fellow in the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. He is also a member of the faculty at Fielding Graduate University. He specializes in the treatment of adolescents and adults with obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, anger, depression, and personality disorders. Dr. Elliott is coauthor of: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2nd Ed), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Why Can't I Get What I Want?, Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be?, and Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth. His website is:

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APA Reference
Elliott, C. (2012). Alleviating Kids’ Distress. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 31, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Feb 2012
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