The Ages & Stages of Anxious Kids: A Guide for Parents with guest Dr. Regine Galanti

About this Episode

Whether you’re parenting a 19-year-old or a preschooler, there’s a lot to be understood about anxiety at different ages and developmental stages. Author and clinical psychologist Dr. Regine Galanti joined Dr. Amy and Sandy for this episode about the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors associated with anxiety, why kids and teens are experiencing it, and what parents can do to help. She also explains what parents often do to make anxiety worse for their kids or teens and how to support our kids by looking at things through a lens that may be very different from our own upbringing and life experience. If you’re raising a kid with anxiety, check out this Brainy Moms podcast episode to get practical tips and advice from a true expert on the subject.

About Dr. Regine Galanti

Dr. Galanti is a clinical psychologist and founder of Long Island Behavioral Psychology, a cognitive behavioral psychology practice in Nassau County, Long Island. She specializes in anxiety and OCD in children and teens, as well as parenting concerns. She is the author of three books, including the new book, “Parenting Anxious Kids: Understanding Anxiety in Children by Age and Stage.”

Connect with Dr. Regine Galanti


Instagram: @regine.galanti

TikTok: @dr.galanti

Twitter: @reginegalanti

Book: Parenting Anxious Kids: Understanding Anxiety in Children by Age and Stage

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Read the transcript for this episode:

DR. AMY: Hi, smart moms and dads. We are so happy to have you join us for another episode of the Brainy Moms podcast brought to you today by LearningRx Brain Training Centers. I’m your host, Dr. Amy Moore. I am joined by my co-host, Sandy Zamalis, and we are excited to bring you a conversation today with Dr. Regine Galanti. Dr. Galanti is a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety and OCD in children and teens. She’s the founder of Long Island Behavioral Psychology, a cognitive behavioral psychology practice in Nassau County, Long Island. She is the author of three books on anxiety and is here to talk about her latest one, “Parenting Anxious Kids; Understanding Anxiety in Children by Age and Stage.” Welcome Dr. Galanti.

DR. GALANTI: Thank you so much for having me.

SANDY: We’re so glad you’re here. So, we always start off our podcast by asking our guests to tell us how they got involved in their area of extra for tease. So why don’t we begin by having you share with us why you became a psychologist and how did you get interested in helping kids and teens with anxiety?

DR. GALANTI: Oh my gosh. So I wish I had a better reason. I was one of those kids who was always driven and just decided. I took a psychology course and I was like, “I want to be a psychologist.” And then I just like did all the things that turned me into a psychologist, like probably without thinking it through. And then I lucked out in that it really is what I love doing. But, you know, like I ran my way through high school and then through college and then through grad school and I was like, “Oh, okay, here I am. Now I’m a psychologist. What should I do?” And then after I got, I guess, licensed as a psychologist, that’s when I sort of had to figure out, “Okay, now what do I want to want to do? What do I want to do with this clinical degree that I have?” And I always liked working with kids, so I knew it was something related to kids, and in grad school, I trained more as an adult anxiety therapist, and I found that I really liked treating anxiety. I’m very practical and goal-oriented, so the kind of therapy I do, cognitive behavioral therapy, works really nicely with that. But I also really like treating anxiety because the research supports the therapy I do. It’s so treatable if you have the right tools. And if you don’t have the right tools, it’s like a shot in the dark. So I love that difference between, “Hey, look, do this.” And then seeing the change versus like, “What am I even supposed to do with all these feelings?” and having no idea. So then combining the two actually took a while, right? Like the child part and the anxiety part. So I started seeing basically only kids, probably like five years after grad school and realizing I like it so much better than grownups. No offense, grownups. But I could just be so much more of myself. I can sit on the floor. I can pull out a game. I can like, get distracted by a shiny object in my office and like, it doesn’t throw them off at all. And you do that with adults and they’re like, “What’s wrong with you? You’re so not a professional.” And kids are like, “Okay, that’s just her.” So, yeah, so I ended up now I basically treat anxiety throughout the lifespan, or really more children, teens, young adults, and with the recognition that kids and teens and young adults all exist within that family framework. So if I want to be able to help the kids and teens, I really have to work with the adults in their life too. So, haha, I only like kids. And now that came back to bite me because parents are all these grownups and now I have to work with them too, but they’re wonderful. So I’m really not complaining. And then I guess that’s the roundabout way to say here, here I am.

DR. AMY: Yeah, and I would think that if we can give children and teens those tools to manage anxiety, then imagine how much easier they will have as adults, rather than waiting until adulthood to kind of undo those unhealthy thought patterns, right? I mean, I love the idea of catching them while they’re young, which was one of the reasons why I loved your book so much. The fact that you wrote it specifically for parents and you give actionable tips and tools for parents to help their kids, is just super rare in the book marketplace and so I was really excited when I read that. So speaking of your book, you actually open your book with the phrase, anxiety is normal. And I would really love for you to spend some time talking about that because people tend to think that anxiety is always pathological and that’s not the case. So would you elaborate on that and talk about the difference between anxiety and typical worries and when is anxiety normal and when does it become not normal?

DR. GALANTI: Sure. How long do we have?

DR. AMY: We can talk as long as you want.

DR. GALANTI: My starting premise in therapy is basically that all our feelings are okay. So there are feelings that are more uncomfortable for us, then there are feelings that are less uncomfortable for us. But when we pathologize a feeling, it causes problems. So that’s true of anxiety, but it’s also true of all other feelings. I just focus on anxiety and like to treat it. So that’s the one that kind of comes to mind, but you can use that frame for anything. And I actually hate that we use the same word for anxiety disorders and normal anxiety versus, let’s say, depression. We have depression, we have sadness. So it’s very clear that there’s a distinction there between the feeling and when the feeling causes problems. And we don’t have that distinction with anxiety. So, that’s, I don’t know, someone at the DSM-slash-whatever is coming up …

DR. AMY: They ought to work on that.

DR. GALANTI: Take that up, right, work on that. Find a new word.

DR. AMY: Well, they’re not going to because leaving it the way it is means that we can just prescribe meds for it and then big pharma makes all the money and right like so we have to pathologize it.

DR. GALANTI: Right but shout out to again therapy in terms of being the more effective way to deal with anxiety, either in conjunction with meds or alone, because we know the research shows that that works better than medication alone for anxiety so heads up about that.

DR. AMY: But back to, I digress. Sorry about that. Sometimes we get on our soapboxes around here.

DR. GALANTI: Right, right, right. That was like it almost like, like Amy, we’ve talked about this before and it was a plan, but it was not. So all feelings are normal. But what that means is our anxiety is there for a reason. Our anxiety keeps us safe. So, right, if I am a person who is not, who has no anxiety, things I might do are walk into the street without looking both ways, or pet dangerous animals like tigers and lions. And people like that just don’t survive, right? Like you walk into the street, you get hit by a bus, and then you don’t like, procreate in a way that continues through genes. So that chill, no-anxiety person kind of gets evolutionarily weeded out. So we’re left with like this world of anxious people who are more aware of risk kind of for good reason because risk keeps us safe. And I think that that premise is really, really important when we’re talking about anxiety, that it’s not just, “Uh, why is this here?” It’s here because we need to survive. And then sometimes it kind of, the volume goes up and it’s trying to tell us that we’re not safe in situations that we actually are safe. But the system is the same system. Like our bodies are kind of dumb like that. Like it’s an on-off switch. It’s not like, “Oh, okay, well I shouldn’t be afraid of separating from my mom, so I just won’t be. I get that a teacher is just as safe as my mom.” Lke, that’s a really nice logical problem, but we don’t want to really have to utilize that heavy logic system when we’re in the middle of a threat. Because if there’s a tiger coming at you, you don’t have time to be like, “Well, is this a safe tiger or not so safe tiger? Am I in a zoo and it’s behind bars and it’s just, I can’t see them? Or like, am I actually going to die soon?” Like, you need to run. So the system is fast, and because the system is fast, it makes mistakes. Which is fine, except when those mistakes pull you away from your real life as a child or adolescent or even adult. So then all of a sudden you’re running away from spiders, which I guess evolutionarily might have been dangerous because if they bit you and they were poisonous. But nowadays I don’t know anyone who has died from a poisonous spider bite.

DR. AMY: Because we have antidotes if it is venomous. Okay, so let me just, let me just rephrase what you said to make sure that we’re understanding. Alright, so we have this threat detection system in our brain that tells us, “Danger! There’s a tiger in the bush behind you. There’s a truck coming down the road!” And so then that the anxiety that it produces helps us respond in a way that saves our lives. But the brain doesn’t know, necessarily know the difference between a real threat and a perceived threat, right? So like people who are experiencing anxiety, sometimes they take a perceived threat, like this tiny spider, and react the way they would to a tiger.

DR. GALANTI: Right, exactly. You nailed it. Right? It says, the anxiety system is sometimes a smoke detector going off with no fire. And sometimes it’s a smoke detector going off with a fire. So, how can you tell the difference? Especially if the system is getting to you to run out of your house. So you’re not sticking around to be like, “Hey, is this fire or is this not a fire?”

DR. AMY: All right.

DR. GALANTI: So treatment relies on people making choices that seem very irrational because your brain, that smoke detector is going off and you’re sitting inside what feels like a burning building, right? Learning to face your fears is scary.

DR. AMY: So there are developmentally appropriate worries that children are going to face, right, at each life stage. And so how do parents know the difference between a typical worry that they should just be supporting and an actual problem with anxiety?

DR. GALANTI: Right. So I hate giving parents extra homework. I think parenting is hard enough as it is, right? But the only way you’re going to know what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate is if you know what development is supposed to look like. So when you go to your pediatrician every year, you get that kind of like very, very quick, “Hey, is your kid doing this or doing that or doing the other thing?” And the same way we have those kind of physical milestones that they ask about, there are emotional milestones that I think are making their way slowly into that same checkup process. But more for younger kids and it’s very brief, but as parents, I think it’s our job to know what you should expect. So, in terms of anxiety, what you can expect when a kid is a baby or toddler, is you can expect stranger anxiety, right? Like babies hit that stage around nine months where they’re like, “No, I don’t like any new people. I only want to hang out with mom, dad, grandma, babysitter.” We could expect separation anxiety, crying when they leave mom and as they grow up, those anxieties will shift towards more real, first non-realistic fears and then realistic fears. So preschoolers are still afraid of separation and then sometimes become afraid of maybe more imaginary monsters, dragons, robbers, things that don’t really realistically happen very often. And then as they sort of move into middle childhood, they become more realistic. Like, “Is anyone going to want to be friends with me?” And those social fears tend to then get worse through probably adolescence and young adulthood, right? You’re going to be more afraid of, “Am I doing the right thing? Am I looking the right way? Am I fitting in with my peers?” Parents always freak out when teens express those worries, like, “Hey, why do you care? Why do you have to have the same haircut as all your friends? Why do you need to have that exact brand of sneakers?” But that would actually be developmentally appropriate for teens. And then as, like, as you move into emerging adulthood, fears of social connection are still there but people are becoming more independent and it’s normal to be a little bit hesitant about that, but it’s also developmental challenge that we want young adults to meet for emerging adults to meet to be able to achieve their own independence.

SANDY: In your book, you mentioned that surveys show that around 30 percent of kids will be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder before they turn 18. That seems really high, but 1 in 3 kids, is that a long-term trend or is that new? Like, what’s happening there?

DR. GALANTI: So we’re not actually sure. We know the rates of anxiety has been going up since at least 2010. COVID, I think, made everybody notice it more, but it’s unclear whether there’s a cause and effect, or it’s just more like when parents were hanging out with their kids so much, they’re like, “Oh, you are anxious. What the teachers told me is actually warranted and I didn’t really believe it because I wasn’t seeing it at home.” So short answer is we’re not clear, but long answer is it’s definitely a trend and we need to think more creatively about how to help more people because even if every single psychologist was full and free we would still not be able to handle the amount of kids and teens that have anxiety. Which is honestly part of the reason why I wrote the book. Because we don’t know. Like, books are helpful. I like reading, so maybe  that’s one reason. But there needs to be better ways to get what we know works out into the hands of the people who need it.

SANDY: Well, and that’s a multi layered issue, right? I know, um, in my family, my son, we actually had a hard time figuring out if it was anxiety or ADHD because there was some comorbidity kinds of things going on there. Do you find that as well? Like, sometimes you just have to figure out, is it truly anxiety or is it something else that’s causing some of that avoidant behavior and issues that are coming up?

DR. GALANTI: Right. Right, or there’s something else causing the anxiety, but if I get rid of the something else, I won’t have anxiety. Like, we know often depression causes anxiety. If you treat the depression, the anxiety will go away on its own. So part of me wants to say it doesn’t really matter. You can kind of use specific parenting tools no matter what. But I’m hesitant to say that out loud, because it’s also important to figure out what it is at the same time. So if you’re just saying, “Well this is anxiety, let’s treat it like anxiety,” that is a little bit shortsighted. But at the same time saying like, I’m taking an anxiety frame to this because I see anxiety now, but there might be something causing the anxiety, I’m gonna keep looking into what, where that this anxiety is coming from. That would be something I would recommend, but it’s also hard because that means you have to find a good diagnostician who’s going to be able to recognize things for what they are, which is very hard for parents. I see this all the time. There are things in my office that I will say, a hundred percent, this is anxiety and what you can do about it. And then it shows up in my own kids and I’m an expert in this and I’m like, “This is anxiety!”

DR. AMY: Right. Yeah, I, with my, with my oldest, I knew he had ADHD. ADHD is my area of expertise. But I took him to a specialist three hours away for two full days of testing, because I wanted to make sure, number one, that yes, that is what it was, and that I wasn’t missing something else. I think that, you know, we can’t look at our own kids through the same lens.

DR. GALANTI: Right. And I would say that’s partially because of our own anxieties, right? Like we’re bringing our own parenting stuff into it. So it’s really hard with your own biases to be like, This is a hundred percent what’s going on, like that same danger system that we have when we’re anxious about our own stuff, comes out when we’re trying to protect our kids.

DR. AMY: So I want to talk a little bit about that because our behaviors as parents can kind of feed the fears, right? Like we can inadvertently make our kids and teens anxiety worse, right, by some of the things that we do could talk about that a little bit, right?

DR. GALANTI: Absolutely. It’s more like we often, or I often—I’m not going to speak for other parents, maybe they’re perfect—do things that I know are not helpful, and I know they’re not helpful. But things like parents will often avoid, help their kids avoid taking risks. Because risks are scary and risk might result in failure. So if you reach out to a new friend to make plans and then that person doesn’t want to make plans with you and you feel rejected, that’s hard not only for the kid, but it’s also hard for a parent to watch your kid suffer. Like they put themselves out there and, and you know, it kind of got tossed. So when we encourage our kids to kind of stay in their safe zones, that is one type of parenting that can actually help anxiety grow. Because you might think like, “I’m just keeping my kids safe.” Which is true, but keeping your kids safe might not be your ultimate goal if you want them to be able to try new things or expand their social circle, in the example that I’m giving. But if you let your kid quit soccer after they after they try one, I don’t know match game because they’re not soccer kids I don’t know why went to that example. You’ll never know if they like soccer, right? Well, I guess because it’s quit, so it’s fine. It would be fine. But they never tried soccer. They’re more, they’re like tennis. But if I let them quit tennis, they’d never, I’d never know if they were good. Or if they’d like it. So, avoiding risk is really one way that we can make anxiety worse. But it’s scary to help your kids take risks.

SANDY: What I’m hearing you say is that, you know, essentially individually, we all have—we had another guest that talked about dimmer switches, so I seem to use that metaphor a lot now—but it feels like sometimes for some individuals in terms of anxiousness or whatever word used for that feeling, sometimes that dimmer switch is up, right? And so you might have a child that you’re lucky if you can get them to try something new, right? Everything is, you know, my daughter, you know, she would live in the house. It was really hard to get her to go out and try new things, although she, you know, does it now with lots of encouragement her whole life to do it. But there are kids that you can’t get them to do things like that. You can’t get them to try so that I’m assuming that switch for them is just high. Whereas you have other kids, right, who are, that switch is low and like, you’re just trying to keep them alive. Like, they keep doing things. So, you know, what, what can parents do on, you know, kind of the flip side of that coin, what can they do to help their child’s anxiety, for example, and trying to think something new or just building that system for them where they’re not afraid to fail. They’re able to put, you know, baby steps forward in order to build that competence.

DR. GALANTI: Right. So Sandy, you make a really good point also about your daughter. I’m picking up on the fact that you said she used to not try new things and now she does with a lot of encouragement, right? You didn’t, you helped her take risks. So it’s not always successful. And I think that’s, what’s hard as parents, that cultivating this kind of “maybe take a risk sometimes” mindset doesn’t mean you’ll always be awesome at things. It’s more like, “Hey, we’re just going to try this and see how it goes.” And it’s a parenting skill, it’s not a child skill.

I don’t know if a kid’s going to take risks, if I encourage them to take risks. But I know that if I help them avoid risk, I’m going to make the problem worse. So again, I’m a behavior therapist, I’m very practical. So I like to think about, I can’t control anyone’s behavior but mine. So if I’m a parent, what am I doing to help my kids? Does not mean that I’m going to give my kid exactly what they need to fix all their anxiety or all the pathological anxiety, just to make clear that distinction we were talking about before. But what it means is I’m putting them in the best position that I can to help them succeed. And they might need more, right? They might need therapy. They might need their own set of skills. Being, you know, I think I’m pretty good at parenting my kids in a way that is not conducive to them building anxiety. Two of my kids have anxiety. It’s not like, “Oh, well, you did everything right, now your kids aren’t anxious.” There are genetics involved. There’s, you know, my spouse who might be parenting a little bit differently than me. Right? And that might contribute to the problem. So, I can be doing everything right, and things don’t always work out. But what I think you’re the question you started with is what can we do to help and I think you hit on also a bunch of other ways that parents can make anxiety worse in the process. Like being inconsistent when we’re not sure how to respond to our kids anxiety. Sometimes being super empathetic and be like, “Hey, you can stay home from the birthday party. No problem.” And sometimes being like, “Nope, we do hard things. We’re going to the birthday party” and having no idea like that you’re being a ping pong ball. So your kid doesn’t know what to expect. “Is my mom going to force me to go to the birthday party? Or is she going to let me stay home?” Which means that kids end up playing you like a slot machine. Because they’re like, “I’m anxious, I’m going to try. And I’m going to try again. And I’m going to keep trying because sometimes Mom or Dad gives in. Sometimes they don’t, but I might as well try.” Right? So one strategy I encourage parents to use is—I wish I can say don’t be inconsistent. That would be amazing. But also who could take that advice? That’s not realistic.

SANDY: Right, not practical.

DR. AMY: Try to be consistent.

DR. GALANTI: Yes. Recognize what mode you are driving in. More like, if I am saying, “I am pushing you now. Like, when am I going to give up pushing?” Like, what are my metrics? Kind of deciding that in advance. And then if I’m going to say, “Okay, this is not the time to push.” Deciding that early on, right? Not waiting for my kid’s anxiety to get up to a level 10. And then say, “Oh, okay, you don’t have to do this.” Because now you just played into this idea that if your anxiety is so bad, we don’t have to face it because it’s probably too dangerous and you can’t handle it. Which is the opposite message of what I want to send a kid of like your anxiety is not scary to scary to me like, “Sometimes we’re going to push through, sometimes we’re not, but it’s not scary. Like, it feels scary, but I know you can do this even when it feels scary.”

DR. AMY: All right. So we know that kids learn from watching us, right? They watch everything we do, even if we don’t realize they’re watching everything we do. So talk a little bit about how modeling can influence their anxiety in both directions, right? Like, how can what we do make their anxiety worse? Our behavior. And how can our behavior actually help them regulate their own feelings?

DR. GALANTI: Right. Yeah. Well, I like to think about this as parents love to pull the “Do what I say, not what I do” card. Right. So parents love to say things like, “Oh, it’s okay to make mistakes.” Right? And then I see this all the time in my office. Parents will be like, “Yeah, it’s okay. You made a mistake. We’ll recover.” And then I watched a parent like mix up a scheduling issue or something go on berating themselves. Like, “How could I have done this? I can’t believe I did this. This is a disaster.” Right? This is the same parent who just sat five minutes ago in my office saying like, “No, it’s okay.” Sometimes you just don’t do as well on an exam as you think you’re going to and that’s okay. So you got to think about like parents, kids learn from their parents behavior much more than from the parents words. We have a lot of words. They’re not always so meaningful, right? Like, that’s why the lecturing doesn’t always help when you’re talking to a kid. They’re like, “No, I’m going to get through to them. I’m going to tell them exactly what they did wrong, and they’re going to get it this time. They’re going to understand exactly what I’m saying.” And then we fail, right? And then I just lectured my teen for an hour and like, that was just like. it might have just thrown the hour in the garbage because she didn’t hear anything and it just made her feel bad. So instead of using our words, I am a much bigger believer in using our behavior. So when you make a mistake, how do you model that it really is okay to make mistakes? Or it really is okay to feel anxious? What that means is talking about it. It doesn’t have to be really bringing your kid in as if they’re your therapist to whatever you’re dealing with, but it should be like, “Oh, I mixed up this schedule. I can’t believe I did this. This is making me feel uncomfortable. I guess I’m going to have to like take a deep breath and then fix the problem. It might not be perfect, but I’m going to do the best I can.” And with younger kids being very, very explicit about that, right? You can label your emotion. You can kind of fake how big the problem is. Whenever I write, I make mistakes and then I cross them out. I don’t even notice it. But my 6-year-old is being extra perfectionistic about learning how to write lately. So now whenever I’m making a grocery list and I write the wrong letter, I like, I’ll stop myself and like cross it out and then like take a breath and just be like, “Ah, this is so annoying. I meant to write milk and I wrote I don’t know, mink. I’m gonna cross this out and write it again.” And my list doesn’t look perfect, but it’ll be fine because it’s just a tool that I’m taking with me to the groceries. Right? Being able to model that is so much better than, “Ah! Ah! Rip this up. Start again.” That’s not helpful. And as you get older you can do that in, as your child gets older, I guess you would be getting older too. I didn’t know more explicit or implicit way in terms of just when—I have a teenager, and so she knows how to push every single one of my buttons when she’s anxious, she pulls for me to just lose my mind. And being able to take that deep breath and show her like, “Hey, this is how I’m regulating” without saying, “This is how I’m regulating because you’re driving me crazy.” Which would probably make the problem way worse. Taking a minute and then modeling the way I would want her to respond to her anxiety in that moment. Again, it might not be the be all to end all. She might not do exactly that in that moment and I think then our parenting brains pull for that kind of like, “Explain what you just did so she gets it. Let’s go into lecture mode.” And again, that’s moving away from modeling. So being able to do more of that, just showing them the way you would want them to respond.

SANDY: I feel like I do better at that now as a parent of adult kids than I did when my kids were younger. So in fairness, I took the big five personality test a couple of years ago with my daughter and I scored really high in neuroticism. So I have to like, say sorry to my kids because I’m a worrier. I’m a worst-case scenario game player. Like I’m constantly like swirling in my head about, you know, making sure I’ve got everything all tangible possible outcomes figured out. That’s just how my brain works. And I definitely noticed it more when my kids were older. When my kids were teens, they would push back on me and be like, “Mom, you worry too much.” So they would knd of regulate me that way, like back off. But when, now that, when they went out into the adult world, you know, and then, you know, things are scarier then, right? Because they actually have to, like, stand on their own two feet and do that stuff.

I ratcheted that back for myself big time where I’m like, “Okay, your taxes are due. All right, what step are we going to take first?” Like, instead of having it be this, like, big overwhelming thing. And I think that’s a really important message that you’re sharing is that, you know, you really, you have to know yourself to where are you on that spectrum, and then try to figure out in moments in time what your kids need from you. So, you know, you’re noticing that your child is, you know, getting way too perfectionistic about their writing, so you’re going to model making error so that they can see that Mom makes errors too. This is how I handle errors. I love that, that kind of process that you kind of walk through there. Is there— I loved at the very beginning when you talked about the language piece, right? Because when I took that big five, the word neurotic, Made me angry. I was like, what? Like, that’s a terrible word.

DR. GALANTI: I agree, I don’t like that word.

SANDY: Yeah, and anxious is the same, right? Like, it’s not a great word if there’s no way to differentiate it between like a true pathological problem and just something that you’re feeling. Do you have language that you use as a psychologist with talking to kids of different ages about worry, fear, that fight or flight response? That they’re having.

DR. GALANTI: I think all the words you just said are great, right? Worry, fear, fight-or-flight response. I talk a lot about how you always have a body, a physical response to emotions too. We discount that. Again, I think, I don’t know. We encourage people to live in their heads in a way that’s not realistic. I know, I’m a cognitive psychologist, but I don’t know how you can feel about that. We’re more than just our thoughts, right? Like, we have these thoughts and then we have physical reactions to our thoughts. So it’s one thing to be afraid, like, to have thoughts of danger. Like, “Everyone’s going to judge me, I’m going to have no friends.” But when you have that kind of thought, your body’s going to respond. Your heart’s going to beat fast. Your breathing is going to speed up, your palms are going to sweat, and that is confirmation to you that your thought must be true. That’s going to drive your behavior. So the way I think about it is just giving people the information that like you’re always going to have a physical response and maybe that is what— it’s what the anxiety wants because that keeps you safe. But that is not, that does not mean that your physical response is leading you towards truth. It’s leading you towards safety, and you have to decide, “Is this a situation that I need to be safe, or is this a situation that it would be better for me to take a risk, even though I feel terrible?” Because it does feel terrible to have the fight-or-flight response, and stay where you are. It’s not what our bodies are meant to do. So, we really are fighting that physical system when we’re saying, when I’m saying “don’t take risks.” And language wise, I really like to just meet people where they are. Like, what do you want to call them? And helping them notice, what does this feel like when you feel it and what words do you want to use for that? Because often we don’t have that awareness of what anxiety feels like in terms of the full spectrum of the emotion, because we’re so busy trying to run away from it. But who wants to sit and be like, “this is what my body feels like when I’m anxious. I just want to leave it behind and keep running.”

DR. AMY: Yeah. What I noticed as a counselor is that people have anxiety about anxiety. Right? And they tend to use the term anxiety as a catch all for any uncomfortable emotion. And so I think it’s super important that we help people recognize that just because you’re feeling discomfort does not mean you’re suffering from anxiety. That we really want to drill down on what is it that is happening in your body. What are you actually thinking and what’s actually going on here? Right? Because I think that we don’t like to be uncomfortable, right? So we start to get a little bit of adrenaline. We’re uncomfortable and we automatically assume it’s anxiety. Right?

DR. GALANTI: And it might be anxiety. And also that anxiety might not be helping us or might not be helping our child. So being able to recognize, I like to think of this as the parallel process also that goes on between children and their parents. So if your kid is getting anxious and having a fight or flight response to anxiety and their behaviors are pulling for avoidance, and as a parent, often we get roped into that cycle and then we’re like, “Oh my gosh, my kid’s anxious.” So you’re having your own thoughts about your child’s anxiety. You’re having your own physical response to your child’s anxiety and your own having your own behavioral urges. Like, do I wanna pull my kid out? What do I have to do now? Right? Like, we’re like, we need to go, go, go. So being able to recognize that what we’re experiencing before we jump in to try and save our kids from a situation that probably isn’t dangerous, is often what I’m trying to do in my parenting work.

DR. AMY: Yeah, I really like that. I mean, especially when those mirror neurons are going to kick in and your child is going to respond to your anxiety about their anxiety, and it’s just going to perpetuate this cycle.  I mean, because we have to help kids co-regulate, right? And so we can’t do that if we’re not regulated, number one. Number two, I think that even as parents, like we need a little bit of education sometimes on that fight-or-flight process. Like we know that that rush of cortisol and adrenaline, if we wait it out, it’ll dissipate in about 90 seconds, but because we panic, right? Then it continues to cycle through our continues to course through our veins, right? Because we don’t let it dissipate. We panic. We freak out. Our kids are dysregulated because we’re dysregulated. It’s now my cognitive psychology geek part of me is coming out.

DR. GALANTI: I think that’s exactly what’s going on. Like, we just being able to recognize that anxiety is not dangerous, but it’s trying to tell us something to help us avoid danger is, I think, one of the most important parts of what I say. Because if you start from that premise, it helps you recognize, like, “Oh, there’s social anxiety that I’m feeling, what they’re trying to tell me, and do I want to buy into that story? Because if I run away, if I don’t go to parties, I will not have friends. So I can be safe and say, I’m not going to any parties, and therefore I won’t screw up socially. Or I can say like, I am going to have to kind of like go through, like push through this adrenaline that I’m feeling, even though it feels like the wrong thing to do. Because if I want to have friends, that’s the only way I can’t have friends. If I don’t talk to other people, I just can’t.

DR. AMY: All right, so we need to take a break. Let Sandy read a word from our sponsor. And when we come back, I want to talk a little bit about how parenting styles can influence our kids’ anxiety and specifically about intolerance of negative emotions. We’ll talk about that when we come back.

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DR. AMY: We’re back talking to Dr. Regine Galanti about anxiety in kids. And I actually have to say something. So, as I’m looking at Dr Galanti’s background, there’s a book called, “Anxiety Relief for Teens” and I recognized this book and during the break I turned around, it’s actually on my bookshelf, tabbed. And I have taught an Anxiety for Teens workshop and used your book.

DR. GALANTI: That’s so cool.

DR. AMY: I know it is, right? Anyway, I had not made that connection before. Now I’m like super excited.

DR. GALANTI: I’m trying to hit this message at any level that I can say it.

DR. AMY: Yeah, I mean, I thought that book is so familiar. I’ve got that book. Did she write that book? Or is that book just on her bookshelf? And then I turn around and … Anyway, awesome. Yeah. Super exciting. That’s one of my most popular workshops too. Yeah. So thank you for the great content. So I want to talk about this idea of parents not tolerating negative emotions and their kids and how that actually influences their anxiety. Talk a little bit about that and a little bit about parenting styles.

DR. GALANTI: Right, so just for a second I want you to think about like, let’s say something terrible happens in your life, like you lose someone that’s close to you. Who’s the better friend?

The friend that’s like, “It’s gonna be okay, don’t worry about this, like, it’s fine, you’ll cope!” Or the friend who’s gonna be like, “This is pretty terrible,” and like, “I’m here with you, well, what do you need?” Like, right, who’s gonna sit and cry with you and just be with you in the discomfort of it.

DR. AMY: Yes, the friend that provides that presence and acceptance of whatever it is.

DR. GALANTI: So, in our attempts to smooth the way for our children, one thing we like to do is tell them that they’re never going to feel bad, right, and clear the bad feeling when they come up with it. But it’s not actually helpful because feeling bad is part of just existence, right? We’re going to lose people, bad things are going to happen, it’s going to fall on the skin on our knee, like, people die, right? There’s no way around that one. So being able to allow your child to feel bad is a gift that you can give your child and being there with them without running away from them. It’s more like figuring out the how and when, because you don’t want that to be their continual state. But if something bad happens, starting from a place of trying to understand their perspective and validating it and being there with them rather than trying to solve it, I think it’s a very, very, very important part of parenting and a very hard part of parenting because we don’t like to see our kids uncomfortable. And if we can fix it, why wouldn’t we?

DR. AMY: Yeah, yeah, that’s profound. Okay. Well, so I wanted to talk about parenting styles and how certain parenting styles actually can be detrimental to anxiety as well. And I think because when we choose an approach to parenting that includes being intolerant of negative emotions. I mean, there are sometimes I think our lens is, “Oh, I don’t want my child to suffer so I’m going to tell him it’s no big deal.” But I think there are other parents who say, “Stop crying. Why are you crying? What are you upset about?” Right? Like we don’t tolerate that negative emotion. And then that just creates more negative emotion. Right?

DR. GALANTI: Right. Because now your child is left invalidating their own experience. Like, stop crying. “I’m not allowed to cry, right?” Instead of, “It hurts, and now we need to find a way through the hurt.” Not because it wasn’t a big deal, but because you’re really gonna let, like, this paper cut ruin your day? Like, we don’t want to live like that either. I don’t like the tone of my voice just there. I wouldn’t have said it that way to a kid, but it’s more like, “I know the paper cut hurts and I don’t want it to ruin your day. So what can we do right now to feel it and then shift towards something else like hanging out with your friends, going to play in the playground. So right, again, I think it gets back to we want to fix everything. Let’s just clear the way, like problem solve the way for our kids. So parenting styles, I think is interesting. As a clinical psychologist, I don’t see so many people talking about this area of research, but as a, as a child development person, I think that this is more, comes from that area of the research, and I don’t think as psychologists, our field doesn’t do a nice job of, of linking all the subfields, even though it would be really super useful, at least to me, if everything was linked together. Where do we learn to parent from? That’s my starting premise for parenting styles. That like no one teaches us how to parent. And we only have to confront that when we don’t know what to do. So when you have an infant, it’s super easy to recognize that you have no idea what the heck you’re doing. And then you read all the parenting books. And then as time goes on, you kind of mostly figure it out until there’s a problem. And then maybe you pick up another book or listen to a podcast or something. And then you’re like, “Okay, this is what I’m going to do.” But, um, in my book, I talk a lot about helping parents recognize where their parenting comes from, where they learned it, and what they’ve kind of internalized from their parents. Like, are your parents more authoritarian or is your style more authoritarian, where it’s “the rules are the rules, and therefore we have to follow them.” Like, that is the way things work, and even if you’re trying to parent in a different way, if you were raised that way, often it comes It kind of creeps its way into the background. Sometimes you’re trying to be like super gentle with your kid and all of a sudden you hear yourself saying something like, “No, but you have to do it because I said so.” So then maybe you have that more authoritarian fence. Or you really, really, really want your kid to be your friend and you want everything to be easy and good for them. And you want them to agree to punishments. Right? “I have to ground you because you stayed up till, like you were out till four o’clock in the morning. You get that, right?” Like asking your kid’s permission to discipline is not very effective. And then we know that there’s this parenting style that has better parenting results, I guess, than the other styles, which is authoritative. It’s kind of that love and logic style. So there are limits, but they’re flexible limits. And you’re going to try to come up with, let’s say, goals and boundaries together. But at the end of the day, like, you’re the parent and you have to pull the parenting rank and do what’s right for your kid. So from an anxiety lens, that might be, “Let’s come up with our goals together. Figure out if you like soccer together. So if you say you like soccer, you don’t get to drop out midseason.”

SANDY: I feel like, so, in social media, especially, there’s a gentle parenting trend that I think falls technically under the authoritative banner, but it has some different nuances to it. And then there, you know, because I work with kids every day. You know, I’ve definitely seen a shift in the amount of structure, I would say, that sometimes, I see for kids. Like they’re just allowed because we’re so focused on that, you know, emotional intelligence piece now I think in our culture, there’s a, our kids have a lot more emotional intelligence, but they don’t necessarily have like a firm grounding sometimes. So they’re just all over the place. And what I’m hearing you say is, you know, as I’ve mentioned before, like sometimes you have to parent the kid you have. Your child might need you to be a little more authoritative or authoritarian depending on what kind of structure they need to feel safe. Is that what I’m hearing you say? Like, you know, it really depends on the child that you have and who you are and how you’re interacting and how you’re creating that space of safety. Not parenting out of fear, you know, you’re parenting out of like a thoughtful analysis of how things are working.

DR. GALANTI: Right. And I will also say, I think I have a little bit of an issue with the words gentle parenting, because as someone who’s very grounded in evidence, gentle parenting is a social media word. And if you look into the research on gentle parenting, there is none, because it’s not a term we use. So I think it’s authoritative, but It does have other nuances. And then when you hear people saying gentle parenting works or doesn’t work, and it’s the only way, I don’t know what they mean, so I can’t look it up. Which for me is like, that’s the worst. I want to be able to look it up. Being able to support your kid and validate your kid is a super important part of authoritative parenting. And I think gentle parenting can sometimes be almost like invalidating to parents who have to provide their kid with more structure because it doesn’t provide the frame for when should I be doing that? And how do I do that in a way that’s validating for my child? Because that’s what I need or what my child needs. I guess one other point on this is that I know that at least social media, gentle parenting is listen to your child about what they say they need. And as an anxiety and OCD treatment provider, what the kids I see say they need is often not what they need. And if I let them do what they say they need, they will suffer, probably for the rest of their lives. The anxiety is so clouding their values and the meaning in their lives. And I don’t want them to live like that. And they, when they make progress in therapy, know they don’t want to live like that. But at the beginning, like that knowledge of what they long term want is just inaccessible to them. So that’s another hesitation.

SANDY: That’s a really good point.

DR. AMY: Yeah. All right. Well, I would love to keep talking, but we are out of time and need to wrap this up. Dr. Galanti, is there anything that you did not get to say that you want to say, about anxiety today?

DR. GALANTI: No, I think, well, I think I, I hit my main point, so thank you.

DR. AMY: Absolutely. Well, we are super excited that you came and spent this hour with us. And so listeners, if you would like more information about Dr. Regine Galanti, you can visit her website at and we will actually put a link to order her book, “Parenting Anxious Kids,” as well as all of her social media handles. We’ll put all of that in the show links for you so that you can get more of her and her amazing advice. So thank you so much for listening today. If you liked our show, we would love it. If you would leave us a five-star rating and review on Apple podcasts. If you would rather see our faces, we are on YouTube. You can find us on every social media channel at The Brainy Moms, at The Brainy Moms. Let me say that again. Sandy, of course, is huge on TikTok at The_Brain_Trainer_Lady. So you can find her there as well. That is all the smart stuff we have for you today. We’re going to catch you next time.

SANDY: Have a great week.

 [WB1]I think she meant 70% don’t seek help. ??