Building Self-Reliance

A child who is self-reliant is able to move forward with a sense of independence and competence, trusts in her own judgment, and is confident about her inner resources to cope. For a child with anxiety this tool is essential because it will increase her ability to have the internal locus of control discussed earlier, which, for a child with anxiety, is so important.

Parenting Do's

Encourage your child to take baby steps in an area that does not have big consequences just in case it does not go well. Your child can be given the responsibility to brush his teeth without your asking, or tie his own shoelaces without your immediate intervention. Instead, try encouraging and guiding affirmations: “I see you remembered to make a bow with your shoelace, good for you.” Older children and teens can help with chores, decide on a paint color for their bedroom, help make dinner, manage their own time schedule for homework, and choose clothes for the next day. These are all non-threatening ways your child will gain a sense of personal mastery.

Parenting Don'ts

A child who is growing in trust for herself so she can feel more in control, and therefore less anxious, will need parents who do not hover. When you stand over children, they will feel as if you are waiting for them to fail and do not trust them to complete the task or get through the situation. Constant instructions about the right way to do things is also not helpful. Rushing to their aid when things become difficult, even if they are scared, also needs to be avoided until at least they have reached their 70 percent discomfort threshold. Other “don'ts” include setting impossibly high expectations for children, or giving them responsibility they are not ready for. Both are set-ups for failure.

A Balancing Act

Your child's ability to build self-reliance is a balancing act. Encouraging independence and freedom to think is great, but not if it goes against your values about respecting others and/or established family rules. Yet, if you do not give your child enough independence and freedom to explore, you risk creating a dependent child who is afraid to think for himself, feels insecure and anxious, and is not confident in his ability. It will be important to assess your child's changing age, developmental ability, and skills to find that balance. It is usually different for each child, especially if one has an anxiety disorder.


My children are upset because they say I have different rules for each of them. Am I doing something wrong?

No, you are not. Rules usually are different for each child, especially if one has an anxiety disorder. Continually assess your child's changing age, developmental ability, and skills as you make rules. Consider a family meeting to discuss the differences, and how you can build self-reliance, with each child in the family.

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