No parent wants to see their child upset, but sometimes it’s hard to know how to react when your child is nervous or afraid. Do you hug them? Do you let them cry it out? There’s so much conflicting advice out there! Next time you’re faced with reacting to your nervous or fearful child, try these tried and true tips on how to comfort a child.

Comfort a child by being there in times of distress

Do Be There

For many children, your presence will help calm them. Hug them or hold them on your lap. Even holding their hand can help give them a sense of security and comfort.

Don’t Be Too Involved

By telling your child exactly what to do or even what to say in stressful and challenging situations, they are not able to solve problems on their own or learn ways to cope by themselves. This doesn’t mean they’ll never need help, but you should let them try to problem solve first before offering a helpful hand.

Do Get Moving

Physical activity can be calming during times of high stress. Running, doing cartwheels, or playing a game involving gross motor movements can help distract them from their worry or fear. Learn 4 ways kids benefit from exercise that have nothing to do with fitness.

Check out our tips for encouraging children to be physically active.

Don’t Avoid Activities

You can comfort your child by encouraging them when they show signs of progress

When it comes to learning how to comfort a child who feels uncomfortable, one effective approach is to encourage gradual exposure to challenging situations. If children consistently avoid activities that trigger fear or discomfort, those fears may persist. To address this, it’s important not to expect too much progress all at once. Taking small steps is key.

For instance, if your child struggles with playing with others at school, organizing a playdate at home can be a thoughtful strategy. This way, they can focus on building comfort around one child before facing the larger group dynamics on the school playground. This gradual approach helps children adapt at their own pace, allowing them to conquer fears step by step.

By employing this method, you can understand how to comfort a child in challenging situations and provide the necessary support. Be patient and supportive, recognizing that overcoming fears is a process that takes time and encouragement.

mom helping daughter with homework

Do Talk It Out

Having the opportunity to express what you’re feeling is important, especially for children. Give them some one-on-one time and listen without judging or discounting their anxiety. The best time to talk it out is when they are feeling calm because they are able to listen to you more easily.

Don’t Overly Reassure

Telling your child that “everything will be okay,” might actually confirm to your child that there is something to fear. While it’s hard to resist the instinct to reassure your child that everything will be okay, it might be best in the long run.

Do Allow For Expression, Even If They Can’t Explain Their Worries

If your child has trouble talking about why they are nervous, there are other ways to start the conversation. Ask them to draw a picture or act out what they are afraid of with a doll, puppet, or stuffed animal.

Don’t Get Impatient

Not knowing how to help can be hard and frustrating for parents, but don’t let those emotions show. Your child can sense how you’re feeling. Revealing your emotions could make your child feel like they’ve upset you, increase their nervousness, and make communicating more difficult. Try to set an example of how to react calmly to help your child feel calmer, as well.

Do Empathize

Even if what they are afraid of seems silly to you, it’s important to show your child that you understand. Although they may not truly have anything to be fearful of, the emotions they are feeling are very real.

Don’t Wait Until They Are 100% Anxiety Free to Reward Their Behavior

Encourage and praise small accomplishments. Being brave while facing things they are afraid of or are feeling nervous about is something to celebrate!

Learn more about social and emotional skills in children and what you can do to help your child’s social-emotional development.