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A resource produced for parents and educators by Lourdes Hill College in Brisbane. 

  • Writer's pictureLourdes Hill College

A fix that's proven to work for kids suffering with anxiety

By Linda Stade

Watching your child battle with anxiety is deeply uncomfortable and exhausting. You are constantly on eggshells wondering what will trigger them. It is almost impossible not to develop your own anxiety. How will my child cope with the new teacher? Will the party after school be a good experience?


You see their fear of missing out, but also their fear of being involved. You see the sweating, the agitation, and the mood swings. You hold them as they cry and squirm, frustrated and angry at themselves, asking why they can’t just be ‘like other kids’.


The symptoms of anxiety usually begin to appear in the adolescent years, between about 8 and 16. Although, all people experience anxiety as part of a normal range of emotions, too many Australian kids experience anxiety as a debilitating disorder, and our girls are most at risk.


I’m sure you’ve read the statistics, if not, here’s a sample from Beyond Blue

  • 34.2% of females aged 16 to 85 will experience an anxiety disorder compared to 23.2% of men.

  • Women aged 16-34 years have the highest rate of psychological distress of any age group or sex

  • Over 75% of mental health problems occur before the age of 25.

  • Young people are less likely than any other age group to seek professional help.


 However, statistics don’t tell the real story.


Statistics don’t show the way anxiety robs our kids of the everyday life experiences they need to thrive. It stops them from hanging out with friends, enjoying a sleep-over, participating in sports, performing in a play, meeting new people, and connecting with their family.


Where do parents find help for their kids?


Although there are highly effective treatments for anxiety disorders, only 1 in 4 people suffering receive treatment. This is tragic because nobody has to live this way.


Unfortunately, there simply aren’t enough psychologists in Australia to reach all our kids promptly. In particular, psychologists who specialise in adolescent mental health are in short supply. Even if you do get an appointment for your child, costs can be prohibitive. So, what can parents do?


Into the breech steps University of Queensland. They have developed a FREE, online, six-part parenting course called Fear-Less Triple P. It is part of the Positive Parenting Program and teaches parents how to help kids manage and overcome their anxiety.


This program is recognised internationally, and it is evidence-based. Regardless of where a child’s anxiety stems from, the steps are the same… and they are effective.

Fear-Less at School


Lourdes Hill College in Brisbane has so much faith in the Triple P Fear-Less program that they are delivering it to their students as part of their wellbeing curriculum and then to their parents so the skills can be practised at home. In this way, the College is providing a toolkit their community members can draw on for life!


Kristina Morgan is the lead psychologist at Lourdes Hill. She has been instrumental in the collaboration with University of Queensland and in delivering the Fear-Less program. Interestingly, she says it is parents who are key. Research shows that the outcomes of working with parents are wonderful. A parent who has the strategies the program offers can be as effective as a therapist. Kristina says, “It just works!”


Action is the key


When asked why the Fear-Less program is so effective, the clinical psychologist says, “When it comes to anxiety, you can talk about it all you want but nothing will change. You must DO something. You must act. The program shows both the child and the parents how to act.”


Avoidance is the most common response to anxiety. It makes sense, if something makes you feel terrible, then it’s natural to avoid it! It is also understandable that parents allow kids to avoid what makes them anxious. You want to protect them. Unfortunately, allowing kids to avoid the source of their worry doesn’t work, in fact, it often makes the anxiety grow.


Kristina compares anxiety to a cartoon snowball rolling down a hill. It gets bigger and bigger, taking with it everything in its way. In the end, you have a giant snowball with cartoon houses, cows, skiers, and trees poking out of it. If you want to make the snowball fall apart you must actively pull it apart, one tree or cow at a time. The power is in the doing.”


Anxiety, like the snowball, needs to be unravelled, one step at a time. Fear-Less gives parents the instructions they need to help their child take this action.


What are the key principles of Fear-Less Triple P?

I can’t do the Fear-Less program justice here, so this is a broad strokes outline:


1. Understanding anxiety

To coach your child, you both need to understand what anxiety is. In moderation it is the brain keeping us safe, however, if the brain goes a bit overboard it is a problem. Anxiety impacts our thoughts, our body’s reactions, and our behaviour.


2. Setting a good example

Parents have the greatest influence over children’s beliefs, behaviours, and attitudes. So you need to be aware of what you model.


3. Promoting emotional resilience in children

All feelings are valid, but no feeling lasts forever. Children must learn to recognise, understand, and accept their feelings. They also need to develop effective and appropriate ways of expressing and coping with their feelings. They don’t have to be happy all the time but developing an optimistic outlook helps.


4. Flexible and realistic thinking

Just because you think something, doesn’t make it true. Fear-Less encourages mental gym, which is the practice of looking at a situation in many ways, rather than having a rigid mindset. For example, we want to avoid catastrophising, perfectionism, or any other form of ‘stuck’ thinking.


For example, before a big test, we may need to coach a child who is catastrophising to understand that the world is unlikely to end if they don’t get an A. Then ask, what might happen realistically? And would that be okay?


5. Avoidance and exposure

As mentioned before, avoidance is not helpful for someone with anxiety. Fear-Less provides a framework to help with gradual exposure to a confronting situation. It breaks the fear into steps on a ladder that need to be dealt with one at a time, gradually building exposure, confidence, and an ability to cope.


6. Managing children’s anxiety

Fear-Less provides wonderful examples of useful and unhelpful parent behaviour. Including:

a. Almost always unhelpful, like mocking, encouraging avoidance, and getting angry

b. Sometimes helpful, like empathising, talking about your own anxiety, or verbally reassuring

c. Almost always helpful, like setting aside a special time in the day especially for expressing worries, promoting brave behaviours, and communicating your belief that they are capable and will cope


7. Constructive problem-solving

Problem solving with your child, instead of for them is vitally important. When they are suffering from anxiety they are disempowered, being part of the solution is what will return their personal power.


Final thought…


Parenting a child through the anxious periods of their life feels terrible. Just like them, you can only escape that discomfort by acting. You cannot talk or think your way out of this situation.


It is so encouraging to see a school like Lourdes Hill College adopt a program that teaches parents and students exactly how to act. And everybody has access to this learning, right here.



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