A Science-Backed Way to Help Kids with Anxiety to Recenter and Build Inner Strength

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In teaching children emotional regulation, a crucial, often overlooked step is what to do after the emotional tide has ebbed. This is particularly vital for children grappling with anxiety, where thoughts can be intrusive and constant. A key practice in these moments is re-centering or grounding, which, when frequently applied, can significantly alleviate distress.

Re-centering demands an anchor, a fundamental self. Surprisingly, we seldom explicitly teach our children about this ‘core self’, and it’s something we might not often contemplate ourselves. Yet, consciously or not, we are constantly imparting lessons about their core self.

Pause and reflect on this. What messages are we sending our children about their core self? Are we nurturing a compassionate inner dialogue, fostering curiosity and bravery? Or are we mistakenly conflating their emotional responses and behaviors with their entire identity?

It’s crucial to distinguish our thoughts and feelings from our core identity, both for ourselves and our children. We are more than our thoughts and emotions; they are a part of us but do not define our core self.

Cultivating a Strong Self-Concept in Children

For children, understanding that they transcend their thoughts and feelings is essential. Their self-concept and capacity for emotional self-regulation are still developing. Meta-cognition, the ability to reflect on one’s own mental state, evolves alongside the prefrontal cortex. This development is evident as we observe the cognitive advancements in children as they grow.

Self-awareness, or consciousness of one’s existence, is a regulatory act. It’s the part of us that manages self-regulation, our core self, sometimes even regarded as the soul.

As parents, our focus should be as much on our children’s core essence as on their actions and behaviors. It’s vital to demonstrate to them who they are at their core, aiding them in developing a robust sense of self. This development is a fundamental aspect of growing up and is key to lifelong mental wellness.

Understanding the Core Self and Self-Energy

Emotions, often described as energy, can be beneficial if regulated properly. For example, frustration might drive us to overcome challenges. However, when emotions become overwhelming, it’s crucial to separate our core self from our fleeting thoughts and reactions.

Dr. Richard C. Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems model highlights the importance of recognizing our core self. He identified this core self as comprising compassion, openness, and confidence, traits associated with success and well-being.

The 8 C’s: Elements of the Core Self

Dr. Schwartz outlined eight components of the core self: Curiosity, Calmness, Clarity, Courage, Connectedness, Confidence, Creativity, and Compassion. These are traits we aim to reinforce in our children, and the good news is, they innately possess them. Our role is to help them recognize and strengthen these core aspects of their being.

Understanding one’s Self-Energy can:

  • Enable children to respond thoughtfully rather than react impulsively.
  • Assist them in managing overwhelming emotions like anxiety.
  • Educate them that they are more than their thoughts and feelings.
  • Remind them that there is a stable core to return to after emotional upheaval.

Challenges in Developing a Strong Core Self

Several factors can hinder the development of a strong core self:

  1. Developmental Pace: The development of this core self is gradual, giving parents a window to influence and strengthen their children’s inner resilience.
  2. Self-Judgment: As children’s cognitive abilities mature, they begin to compare themselves with others, which can lead to self-judgment and insecurity.
  3. Lack of Awareness: Recognizing and naming emotions is a first step towards regulation, but recognizing and defining one’s core self is equally critical.

Introducing the Core Self to Children

Step One: Acknowledge and name the emotion, reassuring the child that emotions are transient. Emphasize that emotions and thoughts are just one part of them, and introduce the concept of self-energy as their core strength.

Step Two: Introduce the 8 core self-energies, adapted from Dr. Schwartz’s model to be child-friendly. Utilize tools like coloring pages to make this concept more accessible.

Step Three: Engage in mindful activities that reinforce self-energy and build inner strength. Remind children that their core self is always there to support and guide them.


Helping children understand and connect with their core self is a crucial aspect of their emotional and psychological development. By fostering awareness of their intrinsic strengths and qualities, we equip them to navigate life’s challenges with resilience and confidence.