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How to lower anxiety with little Mastery Moments

When struggling with anxiety or insecurity, it’s easy to feel powerless. That’s where finding ways to highlight mastery is healing. When kids are struggling, it can be natural for parents to want to fix it or save them. But that reinforces that they are powerless to solve their own problems. Opportunities to face problems (no matter how small) and deal with them are empowering.

In play therapy this happens in so many simple yet powerful ways. The child wants a toy that’s a little bit out of their reach? “Great! You can play with anything in this room. You can’t reach it? Why don’t you try again? You want my help but I think you can do it all by yourself. Oh man, that’s a tricky bin! But look, you got it down all by yourself. You didn’t need my help after all.”

Confidence and resilience can be instilled in little moments where a child learns their own strength. Practice not jumping in to save them on the little things, and then when the big things come, they will have the power to face them.

Some examples of small, developmentally appropriate ways to let your child struggle first as they learn to master a new task:

  • Putting on their shoes
  • Pouring their own cereal or milk
  • Choosing their clothes
  • Trying to put a toy together
  • Finding something that is missing
  • Putting something away

When a child asks for help for a task that you want them to work toward mastering on their own, return the responsibility to the child by saying, "I hear you want my help putting that toy together, but I think you can do it on your own.  Give it another try."  This is not to be cruel or unhelpful to the child, but rather to raise awareness of their own abilities. Ultimately, you are helping the child by giving them a chance to see they can do it on their own!  

Once the child completes the task (however messy or long it take them), praise their effort, saying something like:

  • Look at that! You did it all on your own! You didn't need my help after all.
  • You did it yourself! You thought you needed help, but you figured it at on your own.
  • Wow! That was tough and you thought you couldn't do it.  It feel apart a few times, but you didn't give up and you figured it out!

Emphasizing their hard work, struggle, and persistence increases their resilience and confidence.  You're not praising a perfect product, rather a messy process!  

The best part of practicing this is hearing the child announce, “I did it all by myself! I didn’t need help!” Feeling confident and capable is the opposite of anxiety and helplessness.  How can you step back and praise your child's effort and mastery today?

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