6 discipline tips for kids with anxiety

When kids with anxiety misbehave, they need to be disciplined just like other kids. But how you discipline can make a big difference in your child’s ability to take it in and correct the behavior. Learn why, and get tips to help.

By Gail Belsky

Expert reviewed by Andrew Kahn, PsyD

Updated February 8, 2024

If your child has anxiety, knowing when and how to discipline can be hard. There are a few reasons for that.

First, the behavior may be caused by anxiety and not something your child can easily control. For example, when kids have anxiety, they may refuse to go to school. Or get angry for no clear reason and have tantrums. They also might fidget or be hyperactive or distracted.

Second, anxiety can be related to other challenges like learning differences and ADHD that may impact how kids behave. It can be hard to know what’s causing the behavior. And that makes it hard to know how to correct it.

Third, kids with anxiety can be very sensitive. Discipline that works for other kids may be too upsetting or create more anxiety.

Here are six tips for disciplining kids with anxiety.

1. Respond calmly to misbehavior.

Try to keep your own emotions in check, including any anxiety you might feel. Getting upset or angry can make your child’s anxiety worse. It may also make it harder for your child to take in and remember what you’re saying. The goal is to keep emotions out of it.

2. Consider what’s going on.

If your child is doing something that might cause harm, of course you need to step in immediately. If not, you have time to assess the situation. Have you seen this behavior before or is it new? Could it be caused by anxiety or something else — or both? Was something going on that triggered anxiety in your child? 

It’s important to know what’s driving the behavior so you can come up with the best steps to take to correct it. 

3. Help your child be calm before talking.

It’s important to hear from your child about what was happening to set off the behavior. You may get more information if your child is calm. And that will let you focus the discipline on the specific issue. Try a few minutes of calming exercises like deep breathing before you talk.

4. Make the discipline logical.

Whatever you say or do as you discipline should fit the behavior and make sense to your child. That will reduce anxiety and help get your message across. Be matter of fact when you discuss the issue and the consequences. Discipline is about teaching, not punishing. Your child needs to understand what you’re doing and why.

5. Make building skills part of the discipline.

Kids need the right tools and skills to correct behavior and avoid future missteps. For kids with anxiety, that might be self-soothing techniques. Maybe they need to practice asking questions and self-advocating. Or they might need help with skills related to other challenges they have. 

6. Stick to the rules.

Your child should already know what your rules and expectations are, and the consequences for not following them. Remind your child about the rules when you discipline them. If you need to set new rules based on new behavior, state them clearly. Then, stick to them. Being consistent is key to effective discipline. And knowing what to expect can help your child be less anxious.

Get tips for projecting calm, even when you’re not feeling it. And learn how to help your child self-soothe with these strategies.

Share