Talk To The Hands

…because the head don’t want to know!

Consider how you move your body when you are nervous.


We had a meeting with my daughter’s preschool teacher to chat about whether she was ready for kindergarten. Lex is big for her age and her default approach is physical. We wonder if bumping her forward a year might give an incentive to negotiate a bit more. I was always the youngest in my class – not great for my physical self-esteem but it worked well for my academic drive, which carried through to my adult life.

Separate from fretting about the academic track of a three year old (who’s going to be fine whatever we decide), I wanted to get tips about managing anxiety in kids.

An anxious young woman, growing up in Boulder, with two former elite athletes for parents… I’m smart enough to see that our daughters will be at a high risk for eating disorders. Equipping them with the capacity to relax is one way I can help them prepare for young adulthood.

So I was holding forth with great pride about how I explain behavioral psychology to my (three year old) daughter. The teacher was patient and said that was a useful approach. However, something else I should remember is young kids don’t have the capacity to connect their body to their heads.

Oh yeah, she’s three, not thirty-three!


When Lex is anxious she does one of three things:

  • bites nails
  • pulls fists inwards to her body
  • grinds teeth

My own markers are:

  • shoulders rise
  • tightness in my jaw
  • turn body away from source of stress and look upwards

Rather than speaking to the head, help the child (and yourself) by releasing the physical tension.

Literal Dad: Sweetie, remember that you have a choice about how you feel. Choose to be happy and relaxed.

Effective Dad: Sweetie, have a look at your hands. How do they feel? How do they feel when you open them up?

As a coach, using physical pathways to effect psychological change immediately hit home. Much of the value I receive from coaching comes from watching a physical pursuit improve an athlete’s internal life.

I wanted to pass this tip along, as my change in approach was immediately effective at helping her, and me.

Look for the physical expression of anxiety, release the body, the mind will follow.