Commonly observed in younger children, separation anxiety involves intense fear or worry about being away from familiar surroundings, like home, or separated from loved ones. They might even experience distress simply from thinking about or anticipating separation.

This anxiety can present itself through clinginess, reluctance, or refusal to attend school/activities/sleepovers, excessive distress during drop-offs, or persistent worries about being apart from loved ones. Separation anxiety can even present itself at bedtime.

A child experiencing separation anxiety might become visibly upset, crying, or pleading for the caregiver not to leave. They may also show physical symptoms like stomachaches, headaches, or nausea when anticipating separation (sometimes several days ahead).

Additionally, they might seek constant reassurance or be overly worried about potential harm befalling themselves or their caregivers when apart. This can include fear such as caregivers being in an accident, pets dying in a housefire, or being kidnapped while playing in their backyard.

This anxiety can significantly disrupt the child’s routine, affecting their social interactions, academic performance, and overall well-being.

GAD involves excessive and persistent worries about various aspects of life, such as academic performance, social interactions, and personal safety. Children with GAD often exhibit perfectionism, excessive self-criticism, and physical symptoms like stomachaches or headaches.

These worries go beyond what is developmentally appropriate and might include concerns about minor events or catastrophic outcomes. These children may display perfectionistic tendencies, seeking constant reassurance, and overthinking even routine activities.

Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, or fatigue might accompany their anxious thoughts. They may struggle with falling asleep, difficulty concentrating, or irritability due to their persistent worries.

This chronic state of apprehension and heightened anxiety can impair their ability to focus in school, enjoy leisure activities, and maintain healthy relationships, impacting their overall well-being.

Children or adolescents with social anxiety experience intense fear or discomfort in social situations due to a fear of being judged or embarrassed. They may avoid social gatherings, speaking in public, or participating in activities where they feel scrutinized.

They may avoid speaking up in class, participating in activities, or attending gatherings. When forced to be in social situations, they might experience physical symptoms such as blushing, trembling, sweating, rapid heartbeat, or upset stomach.

These children often worry excessively about making mistakes, being negatively evaluated, or feeling humiliated in social settings. Their fear of rejection or criticism hampers their ability to form friendships, engage in extracurricular activities, or participate in classroom discussions, affecting their academic and social development.

Social anxiety disorder can significantly impact a child’s self-esteem, relationships, and overall quality of life.

Anxious school refusal is characterized by a persistent and overwhelming fear or anxiety related to attending school. Children experiencing this may exhibit extreme distress or panic attacks when faced with the prospect of going to school.

They might plead, cry, or express intense physical symptoms like stomachaches, headaches, dizziness, or nausea, making it challenging to leave home. Their anxiety about school can lead to frequent absences, tardiness, or reluctance to participate in school-related activities.

These children may express concerns about being separated from their caregivers, fear of social interactions, academic pressures, or experiencing bullying or ridicule at school.

The avoidance of school can significantly impact their academic progress, social relationships, and overall emotional well-being, causing distress for both the child and their family.

Specific phobias refer to intense and irrational fears of specific objects, situations, or activities. It’s important to note that fears are quite common in childhood, and many children outgrow them with time.

However, when these fears persist beyond normal developmentally appropriate worries and significantly interfere with a child’s daily life, it may be indicative of a specific phobia. Common phobias include fear of dogs, insects, spiders, the dark, thunderstorm, needles, vomiting and costumes.

A panic attack is characterized by a sudden and intense surge of fear or discomfort that reaches its peak within minutes. The onset is unexpected without obvious triggers.

In children, panic attacks can be mistaken for intense meltdowns. Physical symptoms might include racing heart, shortness of breath, chest pain or discomfort, trembling, sweating. The child might also be unable to speak or respond.

  • Temperament: Inherent behavioral traits can predispose children to anxiety. Highly reactive or shy temperaments may increase vulnerability to anxiety disorders. Children exhibiting behavioral inhibition, heightened sensitivity to new stimuli, or excessive shyness might be at a higher risk of developing anxiety-related challenges.
  • Parental Anxiety: Children of parents with anxiety disorders might be more susceptible to developing anxiety themselves. This can be due to genetic predisposition or learned behaviors and coping mechanisms observed at home.
  • Biological Factors: Imbalances in brain chemistry or alterations in brain function can contribute to anxiety disorders. Genetic predisposition and neurological differences may increase a child’s vulnerability to anxiety.
  • Environmental Factors: Stressful life events, such as family conflicts, major life changes, parental divorce, or moving to a new environment, can trigger or exacerbate anxiety symptoms in children.
  • Trauma and Stress: Exposure to traumatic events, such as abuse, neglect, or accidents, can significantly impact a child’s mental health, leading to the development of anxiety disorders.
  • Open Communication: Encourage open conversations with your child about their feelings and emotions. Create a safe and non-judgmental environment where they feel comfortable expressing their worries.
  • Validate Feelings: Acknowledge and validate your child’s emotions. Let them know that it’s okay to feel anxious and that you’re there to support them.
  • Parental accommodations: Refers to the adjustments or modifications that parents make in their behavior or routines to accommodate their child’s anxiety symptoms. For example, parents may avoid certain situations or activities that trigger their child’s anxiety. While this might provide temporary relief, it reinforces the idea that avoiding anxiety-provoking situations is the only solution.
  • Promote Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Teach your child healthy coping strategies like deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, regular physical activity, and relaxation techniques to manage their anxiety.
  • Establish Consistent Routines: Structure and predictability can be comforting for anxious children. Establishing regular routines for meals, sleep, and activities can help reduce anxiety levels.

If you are concerned about your child’s anxiety, consider seeking help from a mental health professional, such as a therapist or psychologist, specialized in treating children and adolescents.

Explore online child psychotherapy services and online adolescent psychotherapy services at the Leon Psychology Clinic. Our psychologists and psychotherapists can help determine whether your child’s symptoms are within the range of typical development and, if required, provide support and intervention for an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety in children can manifest in various ways, and it’s important to note that each child is unique, so symptoms may vary. Additionally, some level of anxiety is normal and can be part of typical development. However, when anxiety becomes excessive or interferes with a child’s daily functioning, it may be a cause for concern. Here are some common signs and behaviors that may indicate anxiety in children: stomachaches, headaches, muscle aches, avoidance, clinginess, irritability, restlessness, regression (ex., bedwetting), sleep difficulties, social withdrawal, school difficulties, and more.

Anxiety can manifest at any age, including infancy. However, the presentation of anxiety symptoms may vary depending on developmental stages. It’s normal for children to experience anxiety in response to new experiences, such as starting school or meeting new people. Transient anxiety is a typical part of development, and many children naturally outgrow specific fears and worries. In terms of more persistent anxiety disorders, some may emerge in early childhood, while others may become more noticeable as a child grows older.

Research suggests that many children with anxiety have a parent with anxiety. This is because of a combination of biological factors (shared genes) and environmental factors (modelling anxiety and ineffective coping, overprotective parenting).

As a parent, it’s crucial to understand that childhood and adolescent anxiety disorders are treatable conditions. With early recognition, support, and appropriate interventions, children and adolescents can learn to manage their anxiety effectively, leading to improved well-being and a more fulfilling childhood experience. Your empathy, understanding, and proactive approach can make a significant difference in your child’s mental health journey.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon provides online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.



Resilience, the ability to bounce back from adversity, is a crucial trait that empowers children to navigate life’s challenges with fortitude and adaptability. It equips them with the tools to cope with setbacks, grow from experiences, and thrive in the face of adversity.

Cultivating resilience in children involves fostering independence, coping skills, and a healthy mindset. It also reduces the risk of developping anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions.

However, contemporary parenting trends have seen a shift towards overprotective parenting styles which inadvertently hindering the development of resilience.

Helicopter parenting and bulldozer parenting are two terms used to describe parenting styles that are characterized by over-involvement and over-protection of children where parents often hover and shield children from failure or discomfort.

Constant intervention and overprotection prevent kids from learning how to handle challenges independently. Shielding them from failure robs them of opportunities to develop problem-solving skills and emotional resilience.

You might have a tendency towards being overprotective if you say yes to several of the following:

  • Does your child’s failure make you uncomfortable?
  • Does your child’s crying make you uncomfortable?
  • Do you jump to pick up your fallen child?
  • Do you jump to fix a situation for your child? (ex., intervene in a disagreement with a peer)
  • Do you find yourself reprimanding your child for small falls, scrapes, and bruises?
  • Do you prevent your child from climbing or jumping from ‘high’ places at the playground?
  • Do you stop your child from roughhousing with their peers?
  • Do you stop your child from interacting with ‘loud and active’ children in case they get hurt?
  • Do you tend to keep your child home most of the time?
  • Do you fix things (e.g., toys) before your child notices?
  • Do you provide multiple meal options in case your child is not in the mood for what you intended?
  • Do you buy your child a gift when shopping for someone else’s birthday?
  • Do you overcompensate to prevent your child from feeling disappointment? (ex., buying a treat because plans were cancelled)
  • Do you get really angry at other children or parents or school if your child is on the receiving end of minor injuries or insults, but if your child is the perpetuator you tend to give excuses for the behaviour?
  • Are you on the constant lookout for how ‘exceptional’ or ‘different’ your child is to explain his difficult behaviour?

Nurturing resilience involves allowing children to face manageable risks and challenges. Letting them experience failure, make mistakes, and encounter setbacks teaches them valuable lessons in resilience, adaptability, and perseverance. Allowing children to navigate challenges independently, within reasonable limits, fosters a sense of self-reliance and confidence.

Setting clear boundaries at home provides children with a sense of security and structure. Parents can establish boundaries by clearly communicating limits, rules, expectations, and consequences in advance.

Explain the reasons behind them in an age-appropriate manner, instead of saying things like ‘Because I said so’ and ‘Because I’m the parent’.

Make sure you clearly articulate what to do rather than what not to do. For example, instead of saying ‘stop running around at suppertime’, try ‘when we have supper, it is respectful to sit in your chair until your plate is done’.

Consequences should also be determined in advance. This way as a parent you don’t impose consequences that you can’t hold (e.g., ‘no TV for the rest of the month!’) when you are in the heat of the moment.

Natural consequences also make the biggest impact in the long run. Natural consequences are outcomes or results that naturally occur as a direct result of one’s actions or choices.

For example,

  • If a child refuses to wear a coat on a cold day, the natural consequence could be that they feel cold when they go outside.
  • If a student doesn’t complete their homework, the natural consequence could be receiving a lower grade or having to face the teacher’s disciplinary measures.
  • If the child breaks or loses a belonging out of carelessness, the natural consequence is that they don’t have that toy or belonging anymore even though it might be important.

Finally, the most important part about boundaries and expectations is consistency. Children respect parents who are consistent because it feels fair.

Help your child develop problem-solving skills by involving them in decision-making processes. Encourage them to brainstorm solutions to their own problems, gradually empowering them to handle challenges independently. Here are steps you can teach your child:

Identify the Problem: Encourage your child to clearly articulate the issue they’re facing. Ask open-ended questions to help them describe the problem in detail. For instance,

“What seems to be bothering you?” or “Can you explain what happened that made you upset?”

Brainstorm Solutions: Once the problem is identified, encourage your child to brainstorm potential solutions. You can say,

Let’s think of different ways we could solve this problem. What are some things we could try?

Help them generate multiple ideas without judgment, at this point it doesn’t matter if the proposed idea is silly, unrealistic, or just not very good. You can make a few suggestions (good and bad) if your child is stuck.

Evaluate Options: After listing several solutions, discuss the pros and cons of each option together. Guide your child to consider the potential outcomes and consequences of each solution. This helps them develop critical thinking skills and consider different perspectives.

Choose a Solution: Encourage your child to select the most practical and effective solution from the list they’ve brainstormed. Support their decision-making process by asking questions like,

Which option do you think would work best in this situation?

This is very important: allow them to choose what you would consider a ‘bad’ option.

Implement the Chosen Solution: Assist your child in creating a plan to put the chosen solution into action. Offer guidance and resources, if necessary, but allow them to take the lead. This step empowers them to take responsibility for resolving the problem.

Reflect and Learn: After trying out the solution, take time to reflect on the outcome. Discuss with your child what worked well and what didn’t. This reflection process helps them learn from the experience, fostering resilience and adaptability for future challenges.

Throughout this process, it’s essential to provide encouragement and support without taking over the problem-solving process entirely. Tailor your guidance based on your child’s age and developmental stage, allowing them to gradually take on more responsibility as they grow.

Praise: Praise should focus on effort, progress, and specific actions rather than solely on inherent traits or outcomes.

In other words, instead of generic praise like “You’re so smart,” acknowledge the effort and strategies they used: “I appreciate how hard you worked on that problem.”

Try to highlight their persistence: “I admire how you kept trying, even when it was challenging.” regardless of the outcome. This approach fosters a growth mindset, encouraging children to value effort and learning.

When we offer praise that is generic or solely based on inherent traits or outcomes, we run the risk of communicating that traits or outcome performance equals self-worth. In other words, kids learn that to be ‘good’ or worthy they need to be seen as smart or competent usually through external standards such as getting good grades or winning medals.

Some children who excel by external standards and therefore get frequently praised for their academic or athletic performance are at higher risk of developing perfectionistic traits.

Validation: Sometimes when parents get this feedback, they become afraid to talk about performance which can then invalidate the child’s experience.

It is absolutely ok (in fact it is highly recommended) to validate your child’s frustration, disappointment or sadness at losing or getting a bad grade as well as to validate how proud a child feels at their accomplishments. What we need to avoid is overly praising them for those things.

This is what validation and effort-based praise can look like:

I see how disappointed you are by your math grade; you really hoped it would be higher. Even though it hasn’t made a big difference in your grades just yet, I am very proud of all the work and effort you have put in improving your math grades. Let’s set up a time to talk to your math teacher together to see what else we can do for the next exam.

You are so excited to have won first place at your dance competition! You must be so proud of yourself for all the practice you put into it. I’m so happy that the judges were able to see you at your best. Let’s go celebrate.

The Canadian Pediatric Society position statement regarding ‘risky play’ is a must read As safe as necessary: Paediatricians say ‘risky play’ can enhance children’s health and wellbeing | Canadian Paediatric Society (cps.ca)

Resilience involves striking a balance between protection and exposure, allowing children to experience manageable risks and challenges. Allowing them to get hurt, fail, and experience setbacks can foster resilience by teaching them valuable lessons about perseverance, problem-solving, and self-reliance.

Dr. Ginsburg, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine in Pennsylvania, believes that resilience can be broken down into parts that he calls the 7C’s of resilience. These are competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control. Read more about it here: Building Resilience in Children: the 7 C’s of Resilience (pathfinder.health)

In children, low resilience often looks like great difficulty facing everyday challenges such as:

  • Disappointments (e.g., losing or breaking a belonging),
  • Changes/transitions (e.g., cancelled activity),
  • Navigating social problems (e.g., friend said that I’m stupid
  • Low self-esteem and self-worth
  • Poor problem solving

Ultimately, encouraging resilience in children involves finding a delicate balance between protecting them and allowing them to face challenges. Providing a supportive environment where children feel safe to explore, take risks, and learn from their experiences is key to fostering resilience. By embracing setbacks as learning opportunities and instilling a sense of independence, clear boundaries, and positive role modeling, parents can empower their children to develop the resilience needed to thrive in an ever-changing world.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online neuropsychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.



Executive functions encompass a set of cognitive skills that enable individuals to manage and regulate their thoughts, actions, and emotions effectively.

Individuals grappling with executive function challenges often encounter difficulties with disorganization, procrastination, forgetfulness, and an inability to follow through with plans.

Your brain is an Orchestra

Imagine your brain as an orchestra, and the executive functions as the conductor sitting at the very front of the brain (behind your forehead). Just as a conductor directs and coordinates every musician in an orchestra to play harmoniously together, your executive functions oversee and manage various mental processes in your brain.

The conductor (executive functions) decides which instruments (cognitive skills) need to play at what time, sets the tempo, and ensures that every section of the orchestra follows the musical score (your goals or tasks).

When the conductor is skilled and in sync with the orchestra, the music flows smoothly. Similarly, when your executive functions are working well, you can manage your time effectively, solve problems efficiently, control your actions and emotions, and switch between tasks seamlessly.

However, if the conductor is struggling or absent, the orchestra may become disorganized, playing out of tune, missing cues, and generally sounding awful. Similarly, when your executive functions are impaired or challenged, you might become disorganised, make errors, feel overwhelmed and dysregulated leading to a sense of chaos or inefficiency in your daily life.

Types of Executive Functions

– Planning and Organization:

Planning involves setting goals, outlining the steps needed to achieve them, and prioritizing tasks based on urgency or importance. On the other hand, organization involves approaching tasks and information systematically. We all have different internal organizational systems that dictate our thoughts (e.g., using weekdays to conceptualise time), belongings (e.g., organizing clothes by season or colour) and actions (e.g., internalized habits as to how to greet others depending on how well you know them). When we don’t, things feel chaotic and random.

– Self-Monitoring:

Self-monitoring involves assessing one’s performance and progress toward goals. We need to constantly monitor what has just been accomplished and what comes next. For example, if completing a recipe, you need to know what you have done previously to know what step you need to do next.

– Initiation and Task Completion:

Initiation refers to the ability to muster appropriate abilities to motivate oneself to begin a task. In other words, the opposite of procrastination. Then, as the task nears completion, you nedd to evaluate your final output against the initial goal. This evaluation stage involves assessing your performance and identify areas for improvement.

– Flexibility and Adaptation:

To be successful, we need to adjust or adapt our behaviour and output based on changing circumstances or unforeseen obstacles. Cognitive flexibility is therefore the ability to inhibit a previous set of behaviours and then shift strategies or problem-solve in real-time.

– Emotional Regulation:

Emotional regulation involves managing emotions effectively to navigate challenges and maintain focus. Although frustration, stress, and boredom are normal we need to overcome these rather than be consumed by our feelings. Emotional regulation involves acknowledging our emotions and using coping strategies to enable us to accomplish what we need to do.

What can I do about it?

There are several strategies that you can use to accommodate for and to develop your executive functions. Practical ways to do this includes:

  • Keep Consistent Routines: Consistency reduces mental load. Develop and stick to routines for daily tasks (for example morning routines, nighttime routines) so that you can have more mental energy and bandwidth for more demanding tasks in your day.
  • To-Do Lists and Planners: Create lists of daily or weekly tasks and allocate specific time slots for each task. Use tools like to-do lists, calendars, and planners.
  • Prioritize: Learn to prioritize your tasks based on timing, urgency, importance, and other factors. Adjust your priorities to changing situations.
  • Keep a tidy and organized space: A cluttered environment adds to your mental load. Regularly plan a time to declutter one part of your home. Make sure that the belongings that you frequently use are always kept in places that makes sense of its use.
  • Set Reminders and Alarms: Use technology to set reminders or alarms to prompt task initiation or transitions between activities.
  • Mindfulness: Practice mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness-based exercises to slow down and enhance self-monitoring and regulation.
  • Stop-Think-Go Method: Before taking action, take a moment to pause, assess what needs to be done, consider potential challenges, and then proceed with a clear plan of action.
  • Do One Task at a Time: Multitasking is a myth. Do one task at a time and shut off any distractions.
  • Breaking Down Tasks: Break down complex tasks or information into smaller, more manageable chunks to prevent overwhelm and facilitate better understanding.
  • Visual Aids: Use visual aids, such as color-coding, visual routines, or step-by-step, to enhance organization and memory for next steps.
  • Accountability: Engage with a teacher, family member, trusted friend, or colleague, who can offer support, encouragement, and help maintain accountability for task completion.
  • Rewards and Reinforcements: Setting specific deadlines and goals and rewarding oneself upon task completion can also reinforce positive behavior.
  • Pacing: Taking regular scheduled breaks throughout the day and during tasks can reduce burnout, distractibility and feeling overwhelmed. Many individuals also use the Pomodoro to maximize productivity.
  • Keep a journal: Organize your thoughts and ideas in a journal. Make notes of your feelings, needs and emotions.
  • Work with a therapist or psychologist: Learn to attend to your body cues and emotions. Learn tools to regulate your emotions and make choices/decisions based on your priorities and values.

Remember that just as a conductor guides the orchestra to create beautiful music, strong executive functions orchestrate your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours enabling you to navigate life’s challenges more smoothly.

Get Help: Neuropsychology Intervention

Are you ready to take the next step in supporting your executive functions? Dr. Leon is an experienced neuropsychologist. Explore our online neuropsychological intervention services today and discover the transformative impact they can have on your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are Executive Functions important?

Poor executive functioning can manifest itself in interpersonal relationships, work environments, and academic pursuits, impeding success and causing frustration. Developing solid strategies to enhance these abilities can improve performance and well-being.

Do I have executive functioning difficulties?

If you find yourself having the following problems, you might have poor executive functioning:

  • Having a messy home and often misplacing or losing your belongings?
  • Always arriving late and disorganized to meetings/events/activities?
  • Feeling easily overwhelmed by daily tasks at school or at work?
  • Feeling like you can’t juggle different aspects of your life?
  • Frequently avoiding making plans in advance and just ‘winging it’?
  • Procrastinating or giving up easily on almost everything?
  • Moving from one task/activity/idea/project to another without finishing anything?
  • Easily frustrated, stressed or bored by daily tasks?

Are executive functions related to ADHD?

Although executive dysfunction is not a criteria for diagnosis, it is widely recognized that many individuals with ADHD have trouble with executive functions. Those with mental health and cognitive disorders can also experience significant difficulties with executive functioning skills. But more importantly, anyone can benefit from the suggestions in this article, whether to support difficulties or to increase their performance.

Is it possible to have difficulty in one area of executive functions but not another?

Executive functions is a broad umbrella term that encompasses several related but distinct cognitive processes. You can certainly have an isolated deficit in one or two areas, but not in others. This being said, individuals with significant deficits in excutive functions tend to have deficits in almost all areas.

Executive functions encompass a set of mental skills that facilitate goal-directed behavior, including abilities like planning, organization, problem-solving, and self-control. Executive functions are the brain’s orchestra conductor which can make beautiful music when coordinated but make things sound chaotic when not. When our conductor is struggling, we need to use external strategies to help us manage tasks, adapt to new situations, and achieve long-term goals in both academic and everyday settings.

dr. stephanie leon online child psychologist neuropsychologist in ontario quebec

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology and neuropsychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.

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Imagine that your brain’s capacity to pay attention is like a camping headlight. When you’re focused, that headlight shines bright on what you’re doing. But for some people, this headlight flickers or doesn’t stay on one thing for long. In other words, inattention is difficulty keeping that mental headlight steady and on the task at hand.

Inattention can also be conceptualized as a filter problem. You brain needs to ignore and suppress thousands of pieces of information (called stimuli) throughout the day, from how clothes feels on your skin to the buzzing of lights, to be able to selectively attend to what is needed in the moment. In those with inattention, the filter is too loose and lets too many irrelevant pieces of information pass through which are then distracting.

Causes of inattention

Inattention is a cognitive process that is very vulnerable to internal and external conditions. This means that our ability to focus and filter out irrelevant information will vary depending on our needs, mood, health, and events around us. We are more likely to have trouble focusing if we are:

  • Tired
  • Hungry
  • Too hot or too cold
  • Anxious, worried or stressed
  • Down, sad or depressed
  • In pain
  • Have hormonal fluctuations (for example, during pregnancy, menopause and andropause)

These factors are normal and reversible. However, some individual’s attention is impaired due to neurodevelopmental factors (most common being ADHD) or aquired factors (e.g., brain injury, dementia, and chronic conditions like diabetes). In these cases, inattention is something the person struggles with on a daily basis and significantly impacts their day to day life.

What inattention looks like in everyday life

Common problems that individuals with inattention encounter include:

  • Forgetfulness: Frequently forget meetings, appointments, important tasks, loses belongings, or has trouble remembering what was said or what they just did. Note that forgetfulness related to inattention is different from a true memory problem.
  • Taking a long time to complete tasks: Because they are often distracted those with inattention have trouble completing tasks and may need more time to finish what is asked of them.
  • Avoiding tasks requiring sustained attention: They might avoid activities that need longer focus, like studying for exams or reading lengthy texts. On the contrary, they might move from one activity (project, task, idea) to another very quickly.
  • Daydreaming: They might tend to get lost in their thoughts, thinking about something else than what is being discussed in conversation.
  • Making careless mistakes: Rush through work or overlook details due to a lack of attention to instructions, rather than because they are truly not able to complete the task.
  • Difficulty doing what is asked: Struggling to follow multi-step instructions which leads to asking the same questions repeatedly, feeling overwhelmed and looking disorganized.

Because of their difficulties completing tasks, individuals with inattention are often labelled as ”lazy” or ”oppositional”. On the contrary, many individuals with inattention have to work twice as hard as others to complete tasks and should take pride in their achievements even if it took them longer or if they had to take a longer path to get to their end goal.

In therapy, addressing inattention often involves cognitive and behavioral strategies to improve focus, attention, and organizational skills. Therapists may employ techniques such as mindfulness training, behavior modification, and coaching on time management to help individuals manage and reduce inattentive symptoms. Additionally, therapy can provide a supportive environment to explore underlying issues contributing to inattention and develop personalized strategies to enhance concentration and overall functioning.

At the Leon Psychology Clinic our skilled therapists and psychologists are ready to help you are your child improve focus and well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

I am a teacher or daycare provider, what can I do to help children with inattention in class?

  1. Preferential Seating: The child’s seat should be located in such a way to minimize distractions. Usually near the teacher and away from doors and windows is preferred.
  2. Shared Attention: Ensure that you have the child’s attention before providing instructions by making eye contact and/or positioning yourself at eye level.
  3. Clear and Visual Instructions: When providing instructions, make sure they are short, simple, and clear. Supplement instructions with pictures, graphs, and key words.
  4. Repetition and Reminders: Instructions will need to be repeated and the child with benefit from reminders to reinforce learning. Provide these in a neutral tone.
  5. Access to a Quiet Room: Allow the child to complete lengthy assignments and exams in a room free of distractions, such as a quiet room or resource room.
  6. Movement: Some children and teens may use movement or other self-stimulation to improve their focus. This might include doodling, using fidgets, humming, etc. If it is unintrusive to other students, allow the student to use this strategy.
  7. Noise-Cancelling Headphones: Permit the use of noise-cancelling headphones to reduce noise distractibility during individual work.
  8. Access to Recorded Materials: Provide access to recorded lectures, outlines, notes from peers/ teachers, or tools like a smartpen (e.g., LiveScribe) to review missed information.
  9. Use Engaging or Multimodal Learning Approaches: Provide highly engaging and varied learning approaches such as auditory, visual, and hands-on activities to maintain focus.
  10. Positive Reinforcement: Providing incentives, such as additional time on a preferred activity or special permission, can help increase motivation on non-preferred tasks.

I am a parent of an inattentive child, what strategies can I use at home?

  1. Shared Attention: Avoid giving instructions from across the room or while they are actively engrossed on a task. Make sure you are near them and making eye contact.
  2. Clear and Visual Instructions: Provide one instruction at a time. Make sure each instruction is short, simple and in words the child can understand. Refer to pictures or graphs to aid in task completion for routine tasks.
  3. Repetition and Reminders: Instructions and expectations will need to be repeated often. Reminders will be necessary to reinforce learning. Provide these in a neutral, non-judgemental tone.
  4. Frequent Check-ins: You will need to include more check-ins to make sure your child is on the right path when completing a task.
  5. Positive Reinforcement: Offer praise, encouragement, and rewards for efforts (not just accomplishments) to help boost the child’s motivation and self-esteem. Incentives, such as additional time on a preferred activity or special permission, can help increase motivation on tasks that are long and arduous.
  6. Dedicated and Quiet Workspace: Set up a quiet workspace for your child at home away from the busy areas of your home (for example facing a blank wall, not near the TV). Noise-cancelling headphones can help with auditory distractions.
  7. Limit Screen Time: Although excessive screen time does not cause inattention, it can contribute to distractibility and being unmotivated to work on difficult tasks. Set reasonable limits on screen time and encourage breaks from electronic devices.
  8. Encourage Physical Activity: Incorporate regular physical activities or exercise into the child’s routine. Exercise can help reduce restlessness and improve focus.
  9. Practice sleep hygiene: Make sure your child or teen goes to bed within the same 30-minute window of time every night. Shut off electronics 1 hour before bed.
  10. Healthy Eating: Make sure your child has a balanced diet. Breakfast appears to be the most important meal in terms of cognitive abilities and some research suggests that a high protein breakfast (e.g., eggs or meat) is best for attention and learning in children.

Does everyone who have inattention have ADHD?

No. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – including inattentive type, hyperactive type and combined type – is a neurodevelopmental disorder. Meaning that it arises due to brain differences that occur in the perinatal or early childhood period. Most often, the brain develops differently because of the person’s genes and gene interaction with the environment. For this reason, you might hear of terms such as neurodiversity or neuroatypicality when discussing ADHD. If inattention is present after this early period in the brain development, it is typically acquired (for example due to a medical condition, or head injury) or can arise as a response to stress, trauma, and mental health disorders. Although experts are divided on this issue, this is not true ADHD. Aquired or later life inattention symptoms can nevertheless significantly impact functioning and deserve to be treated with the same tools as those available for ADHD.

Inattention refers to the difficulty in maintaining focus, staying on task, or being easily distracted, often leading to trouble completing assignments or following instructions. It can manifest as a core symptom in conditions like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) but may also occur independently due to various factors such as stress, fatigue, or health conditions.

dr. stephanie leon online child psychologist neuropsychologist in ontario quebec

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon provides online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.



“I’m not a perfectionist. If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” – Margaret Atwood

We can all agree that issues like depression or anxiety are problematic. But perfection is trickier—mainly because so many people seem to achieve it all around us every day. 

If you’re like most people, you spend hours each day scrolling through curated snapshots of people’s most perfectly curated moments. It makes you wonder: perfectionist tendencies can’t really be so terrible for you, can they? Actually, they can. 

Let’s get clear on what perfectionism is, how you can spot it, and what you can do to address it. Here’s what you need to know. 

What Is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is a personality trait that goes beyond setting high standards for oneself; it’s an intense drive to meet these standards, often tying one’s self-worth to them. And while many conflate perfection with excellence, there’s a stark difference between the two. 

Excellence is a commendable pursuit of being above average, fostering personal growth. Conversely, perfectionism sets the bar so high that anything less than perfect becomes intolerable, even breeding feelings of inferiority or self-loathing. 

There are three subtypes of perfectionism. 

1) Self-Oriented Perfectionism

Self-oriented perfectionism is best understood as an internal pressure to be flawless. Those who exhibit this trait set sky-high standards for themselves accompanied by a severe sense of self-criticism and negative self-talk. 

Failing to meet personal standards, especially in critical situations, can lead to a barrage of self-deprecating thoughts like, “What were you thinking, you idiot?” or “How could you make such a mistake? You’re a failure!” 

A striking example of self-oriented perfectionism at work was during the 2008 Miami Open. In a moment of intense self-frustration, competitor Mikhail Youzhny hit himself violently with his racquet after missing a shot. 

2) Socially Prescribed Perfectionism

Socially prescribed perfectionism stems from the belief that society expects you to be flawless. These perfectionists are likely to experience daily feelings of inferiority, shame, and resentment. 

One study highlights a 40% increase in socially prescribed perfectionism since the 1980s, particularly among young adults. This is no doubt thanks to the unyielding barrage of “perfect” lives on social media coupled with mounting pressures to achieve in work and school. 

Socially prescribed perfectionism is particularly alarming due to its strong correlation with negative mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

3) Other-Oriented Perfectionism

Other-oriented perfectionism involves projecting one’s own perfectionistic tendencies onto others. A classic example is what’s commonly referred to as tiger parenting, where parents set exceedingly high expectations for their children. 

People with this trait can be outspoken about their expectations and quick to point out when things deviate from their envisioned plan. It’s akin to what Freud described as “projection,” where one’s internal drive for perfection is externalized. 

A notable figure often associated with this trait is Steve Jobs, whose impossible standards were not just for himself but also for those around him.

What Are The Signs of Perfectionism?

While often masked as a commendable trait, perfectionism can manifest in various behaviors that might hinder personal growth and well-being. Recognizing these perfectionist habits is the first step towards understanding and managing this complex trait. 

  • Procrastination – Delaying tasks for fear of not achieving perfection and then spending excessive time on the task once started. 
  • Difficulty Recognizing When To Stop – Continuously adjusting or redoing tasks in pursuit of the “perfect” result.
  • Avoidance – Avoiding new experiences or challenges due to fear of not being perfect.
  • Overreaction To Mistakes – Magnifying the significance of errors, leading to excessive self-criticism or guilt.
  • Not Giving Your Best Effort – Withholding effort in challenging situations to protect one’s image.
  • Excessive Self-Criticism – Harshly judging oneself for not meeting high standards.
  • High Sensitivity To Criticism – Perceiving feedback or constructive criticism as a personal attack.
  • All-Or-Nothing Thinking – Viewing situations in black and white, with no middle ground.


One of the paradoxical signs of perfectionist thinking is procrastination. While perfectionists are often seen as diligent and hardworking, the intense fear of not meeting their own high standards can lead them to delay or even avoid tasks. 

This avoidance is not due to laziness but rather an overwhelming fear of potential failure or criticism.


The fear of imperfection can be so intense that it deters perfectionists from trying new things altogether. They might avoid new experiences, tasks, or challenges because the uncertainty of the outcome feels threatening. 

Overreaction to Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes, but even minor errors can feel catastrophic for perfectionists. They tend to magnify the significance of their mistakes, leading to excessive self-criticism, guilt, and even shame. This heightened sensitivity can hinder their ability to bounce back from setbacks.

What Are The Risks Of Perfectionism?

Literature and cinema have long highlighted the risks of unchecked perfectionism. Just look at Gatsby’s obsession with an idealized past or the haunting narratives of films like “Black Swan” and “The Prestige,” and you’ll see that perfectionist thinking comes with an immense cost. 

Some documented risks of perfectionism include: 

  • Damaged Self-Esteem – Continually failing to meet one’s own lofty and unrealistic expectations can chip away at one’s self-esteem. Perfectionists often experience large fluctuations in self-esteem tied to their perceived sense of accomplishment. 
  • Frequent Frustration – The constant chase for perfection often leads to recurring feelings of disappointment and frustration. Rarely do perfectionists feel good about their accomplishments.
  • Poor Performance – The paralyzing fear of imperfection can result in avoiding tasks, leading to extreme procrastination and, eventually, poor work or school performance. Avoidance can also show up in other areas of performance such as in athletes, parental roles, and relationships.
  • Diminishing Productivity – Ironically, while perfectionists are known for their hard work, they often push themselves to the brink of diminishing returns. Their lives can feel like an endless race on a relentless treadmill.
  • Depression & Anxiety – One study focused on college students demonstrated that both adaptive and maladaptive forms of perfectionism are linked to increased symptoms of depression and anxiety. The act of rumination, or continuously mulling over distress, was identified as a significant factor in this relationship.

How To Overcome Perfectionism?

Overcoming perfectionism isn’t just about letting go; it’s about embracing a new way of thinking. Here are some tips for addressing perfectionism head-on. 

  1. Awareness Of Procrastination 

Identifying procrastination patterns is the first step to addressing underlying fears and taking proactive steps to move forward. Try to recognize when you’re delaying tasks out of fear of imperfection. 

  1. Monitoring Your Critical Voice

Tune into your inner dialogue. If you find yourself constantly self-criticizing or setting unrealistic standards, challenge those thoughts. Replace them with more balanced and compassionate self-talk. Try a mantra like, “everybody makes mistakes, I’m no different.” 

  1. Tolerating Mistakes

Understand that mistakes are a natural part of growth and learning. Instead of dwelling on errors, focus on the lessons they offer. Accept failures as stepping stones to success. Over time, you’ll retrain your brain to have a growth mindset rather than an all-or-nothing mindset. 

  1. Engaging In Self-Care

Perfectionists are notorious for working late nights, skipping meals, and putting their basic needs aside to achieve their goals. Whether it’s taking breaks, engaging in hobbies, or simply getting adequate sleep, combat the stresses of perfectionism by making time for self-care. 

  1. Embracing Mindfulness

Focusing on the ‘now’ lets you let go of past mistakes and future anxieties, allowing you to approach tasks with a clear mind. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can help ground you in the present moment and let go of the fear of failure. 

Does Psychotherapy Help Treat Perfectionism?

Psychotherapy is a valuable tool in addressing and managing perfectionistic tendencies. If you or a loved one is experiencing the debilitating effects of perfectionism, here are two forms of psychotherapy that may be able to help. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 

CBT helps individuals identify the patterns of their perfectionistic thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. Once these patterns are recognized, CBT techniques assist in challenging and reframing these often irrational beliefs. 

For instance, the belief that “anything less than perfect is a failure” can be restructured to “doing my best is good enough.”

CBT also introduces behavioral strategies to break the cycle of perfectionistic actions. This might include setting realistic goals, practicing self-compassion, or confronting rather than avoiding tasks that trigger perfectionistic tendencies.

Family Therapy 

Perfectionism in young people can sometimes have its roots in family dynamics. Family therapy delves into these origins, exploring patterns, expectations, and interactions that might contribute to an individual’s perfectionistic behaviors.

This collective approach ensures that the family becomes a supportive environment, promoting healthier beliefs and behaviors. Family therapy can also equip family members with communication tools to express their expectations in more constructive ways, reducing pressures that might feed into perfectionistic tendencies.

Through Leon Psychology Clinic’s virtual psychotherapy services, our clinical psychologists can work together to unravel the layers of perfectionism. You can access perfectionism therapy with licensed mental health professionals from the comfort of your home with the convenience of fully virtual sessions. 

Explore online adult psychotherapy services and online adolescent psychotherapy services and start your journey toward overcoming perfectionism today. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between OCD and perfectionism? 

While both Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and perfectionism involve intense desires for order and precision, they stem from different motivations and manifest differently:

  • OCD is a mental health disorder characterized by unwanted repetitive thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that individuals feel driven to perform. The compulsions are often carried out to alleviate the distress caused by the obsessions. For example, someone with OCD might repeatedly check if the door is locked due to an irrational fear of a break-in.
  • Perfectionism, on the other hand, is a personality trait where individuals set excessively high standards for themselves. The drive to achieve these standards is often tied to their self-esteem. A perfectionist might re-read an email multiple times before sending to ensure it’s “just right,” not necessarily due to a specific fear but because they want it to be perfect.

What are the signs and symptoms of a perfectionist? 

Perfectionists often exhibit a range of behaviors and thought patterns, including:

  • Procrastination: Delaying tasks due to fear of not doing them perfectly.
  • Reluctance to Delegate: Believing that only they can do tasks to the required standard.
  • High Sensitivity to Criticism: Taking feedback personally or viewing it as a direct attack on their abilities.
  • All-or-Nothing Thinking: Viewing situations in black and white, with no middle ground.
  • Excessive Self-Criticism: Engaging in harsh self-judgment when standards aren’t met.
  • Avoidance: Steering clear of new challenges or experiences due to fear of not being perfect.

Are there any helpful affirmations for perfectionists? 

Affirmations can be a powerful tool for reshaping thought patterns. Here are some affirmations tailored for perfectionists:

  • “I am enough just as I am.”
  • “Progress is more important than perfection.”
  • “I release the need for approval and embrace my authentic self.”
  • “Mistakes are a natural part of growth and learning.”
  • “I am worthy of love and acceptance, regardless of my achievements.”
  • “I choose to focus on my strengths and celebrate my victories, no matter how small.”
  • “Perfection is not the path to happiness; being true to myself is.”

Can children and adolescents show perfectionism traits too? 

Yes. Perfectionism can start early but is usually most recognizable in pre-teen and teenage years. Children and teens with parents who have perfectionistic traits themselves or who are very focused on performance (usually academic or in sports) are most likely to develop and show these traits early.

Perfectionism can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and a fear of failure, impacting mental well-being and hindering productivity. Seeking support through therapy, practicing self-compassion, and setting realistic goals rather than pursuing flawless outcomes can help manage perfectionism, fostering a healthier mindset and promoting personal growth.

dr. stephanie leon online child psychologist neuropsychologist in ontario quebec

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.

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All you need to know about after-school restraint collapse!


It’s 3:30 p.m. Your child(ren) or teen(s) are coming off the bus or being picked up at school. Although your child or teen is usually all smiles and laughs, they look sullen or downcast. They ignore you.

Within minutes of getting home, the peace is shattered by crying, screaming, and fighting.

What is after-school restraint collapse?

After a long day of learning, it’s only natural for kids and teens to want to let off some steam. But for some, this escalates to full meltdowns. This has been coined ‘‘after-school restraint collapse’’.

These meltdowns can be caused by many things, including fatigue, hunger, and overstimulation. But they can also be a sign that your child or teen is struggling to cope with the multiple demands of school life.

What are common signs?

  • Angry, irritable, grumpy
  • Sullen, downcast
  • Silent, doesn’t respond or engage
  • Disrespectful, snarky, looking for an argument
  • Getting upset, crying, meltdown about little things

Dealing with your angry, disrespectful, or silent kid

For many parents, the after-school hours can be the most challenging part of the day. What can you do to survive the after-school hours? Here are a few tips:

1) Approach with Empathy

Just like adult, kids and teens can go through a lot of difficult situations during the course of their day. This can include negative feedback from teachers, conflict with peers, and being asked to focus continuously.

So when you see your child or teen irritable or downcast, assume that something happened, even if they cannot express that to you. Know that their apparent disrespect is not directed to you. It is an expression of their internal discomfort or distress.

2) Give them Space

Check in with your child. Some kids and teens love telling you about their day. Others, not so much. Short answers, ignoring you, and not responding may indicate that they need space.

Offer help and understanding, but if they do not respond don’t press further. Give them some time then re-engage periodically.

3) Have a consistent routine

Routines are important because they help children and teens know what to expect next, reducing possible anxiety or stress. Consistent routines can also help cue the body and mind to wind down.

4) Avoid overscheduling

Many parents understandably want their child or teen to participate in many activities and have varied experiences. However, many families (especially those with more than 1 child) often face overscheduling.

Oversheduling leads to stress (making sure everyone is one time, has the right equipment, etc) which take away from the enjoyment of the activity. How do you resist overscheduling? Make sure to schedule time to do absolutely nothing.

5) Offer healthy snacks / hydration

Another way to deal with after-school grumpiness is to have healthy snacks and water ready for your child or teen as soon as they get home. You can even send them with a snack to eat on the way home if they take the bus. This will help to tide them over until dinner and can cure ‘hangry’ dispositions.

6) Incorporate physical activity

Physical activity (particularly outside) can help kids and teens who feel like they have been cooped up all day at school. It is also a great stress reliever for everyone. After school is therefore the perfect time for kids to run around and burn off some energy, whether it’s an organized activity, going to the park, or having a family dance party.

Dr. Leon is a skilled child psychologist who can help parents and children with emotional regulation, difficult behaviours and anxiety or low mood. Take the first step and schedule a consultation today to learn the right tools to support and manage your child’s difficulties.

Frequently Asked Questions

My child has a meltdown as soon as I start talking about homework, what should I do?

As parents we know that it’s important for our kids and teens to stay on top of their homework and not fall behind. But kids and teens also need to have down time. Create a routine that incorporates both and works for your family. Review as often as necessary.

Keep in mind that chronic avoidance or averseness to homework can be a sign of a learning disorder/ADHD. Talk to your child or teen’s teacher about their progress and ask for a psychoeducational assessment if necessary.

Should I let my child have screentime after school?

This is a personal decision as a family. Screentime is not inherently bad or good for kids (there is research supporting both). The most important thing to consider when making this family decision is whether screentime is taking time away from the essential things in the child or teen’s life. For example, if your child or teen has tons of screentime but they spend very little time with you, playing outside or doing their homework, then yes, it is time to change the family rules.

My child is very energetic, should I enrol them in a competitive sport?

Enrol them in a sport, yes. Competitive sport? That depends. Most (but perhaps not all) competitive sports, by definition, put performance above enjoyment. Although some children feel that competitive sports are rewarding and can derive a strong sense of pride from it, other children can become more anxious and develop perfectionistic tendencies as a result.

After-school restraint collapse refers to the phenomenon where children display behavioral issues or meltdowns after suppressing their emotions and behavior at school. To address after-school restraint collapse, allow children time to decompress after school by engaging in relaxation, physical activities or providing a comfortable environment where they feel safe expressing their emotions without judgment.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.

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Expecting a second (or third, or fourth!) baby? Congrats! Here are a few tips on how to prepare and manage your eldest’s jealousy.


You are excited about the new life growing inside your belly, but also a bit apprehensive. How will my eldest react? Will they play together? Will my oldest feel neglected during the first few months? Will they get jealous?

Sibling jealousy is a common concern. Let’s discuss what steps you can take for the transition to be smoother for your oldest child(ren).

Before the birth

Communicate the news

Tell your child about the baby in your tummy. There is no specific time when to do this but take into consideration the child’s age and ability to understand. Typically, a few months in advance when you start showing is a good time. Remind them often that there is a baby coming and share your excitement!


Read to your child a few books about the arrival of a new sibling so they know what to expect. For example, that mommy will spend a few days at the hospital while grandparents stay over. Since births can be unpredictable you can start reading these books around the time you tell them about the baby in your tummy.


You may want to engage your child in play (with a doll or teddy) so they can practice having a baby. But be clear that a baby will be able to move, cry, and will need to be handled gently.

Involve your oldest

A few weeks before the birth, bring your oldest along at the store to pick out an outfit or a toy for their new sibling. It can help them feel more excited and feel included in the process.

After the birth

Purchase a toy

Your oldest might be very excited to meet their new sibling. However, they might see the baby getting showered with new gifts. Consider purchasing a small gift to give your oldest in the first few days after the birth.

Quality time

Once the baby is born, make time every day for one-on-one quality with your oldest, this will reduce the likelihood of jealousy. Also make sure to include lots of hugs and physical contact as this is comforting and reassuring to children.

Involve your oldest

If your oldest appears interested, involve them in taking care of the baby. This can include fetching items like diapers and toys or helping at bath time.

Do not reprimand harshly

Allow them to touch the baby. Do not scold or reprimand if they are rough, instead show then how you would like them to be gentle. Your oldest might also want to play with the baby’s toys. Allow them to do this, they will eventually get bored and move back to their own.

Creative play

Your oldest might be impatient to play with the baby. Think of some games that require no participation from the baby, like playing peek-a-boo and singing to the baby.

Providing opportunities to be a ‘big boy’ or ‘big girl’

Sometimes the baby can appear to have a lot of new and fun things (new toys, special chair, etc.) which can make your oldest jealous. Providing opportunities for activities or things that ‘are not for the baby and only for big boys/girls’ can create a sense of balance. Your oldest will feel like they have something special too.

Behavioural regression

It is expected that the older child(ren) will experience some level of adjustment to their new sibling. After all, their routine has changed, relatives and parents might be spending less time with them, there might be physical changes in the home and the baby’s cries and needs might be annoying to them.

Signs of behavioural regression can include:

  • Asking to wear a diaper again despite being potty trained.
  • Soiling their clothes or wetting the bed in a child that was previously potty trained.
  • Asking to be helped with eating and getting dressed when they did this independently.
  • Asking for a pacifier
  • Wanting to be held constantly or ride the stroller (if they stopped doing this)
  • Not being able to play alone.

In other words, anything that makes them more baby-like.

What should you do about behavioural regressions?

The number one thing is to arm yourself with patience. This can be hard if you are also contending with lack of sleep and a needy baby.

Do not get angry or react intensely to these behaviours. Acknowledge that they might want to do like the baby but that they are no longer a baby. If you want to indulge them a little bit at first, that’s ok (e.g., letting them taste the baby food). But then gently encourage them to go back to what they were doing previously.

Children innately want to grow up and be more independent and they will eventually give up their baby-like behaviours once they see no value in them. Providing opportunities to be a ‘big boy’ or ‘big girl’ can help some kids move along, for others it can simply be a question of time.

Dr. Leon is a skilled pediatric psychologist who works with children and parents on a range of behaviours, including sibling jealousy. If you are concerned about the transition for your eldest child, a parent consultation might be the best place to start.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will I see signs of jealousy or regression as soon as I bring my new baby home?

Probably not. For most kids, there will be an initial period of excitement. Then, once the novelty wears off (this can take days to weeks or even months) you might see these signs.

Do all older siblings get jealous?

No, not necessarily. Whether your oldest gets jealous usually depends a bit on their personality and on how much they feel the baby is taking away from your attention and time. It can also depend on the oldest child’ age. By using the tips above, you can reduce the chances of your oldest getting overly jealous.

What do I do if my oldest starts asking to wear a diaper or use a pacifier again?

It is normal for older siblings (particularly in the toddler years) to experience behavioural regression when a new baby arrives. Do not scold or reprimand them, instead highlight the disadvantages of being a baby (e.g., going to bed earlier, not being able to eat snacks) and advantages of being independent.  

Preparing your toddler for a new sibling involves discussing the upcoming changes positively and emphasizing their role as a big brother or sister, encouraging their involvement in baby-related tasks to foster a sense of inclusion and importance. Reading books about new siblings, spending quality time together, and addressing their concerns or questions can help ease the transition, ensuring they feel loved and secure during this significant family change.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.

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Potty training can be very easy but only if your child is ready!


Children differ in how fast they walk and talk and same goes for potty training. Some children are ready to potty train earlier than others; some can be potty trained before 2 years of age some after 4.

When children are ready and parents are consistent, most children can be daytime potty trained within a week or two. For other children, it can take longer.

In this article we will cover common issues that arise during potty training and discuss how to address them:


Toddlers can have unusual fears that don’t make sense to adults. When it comes to toilet training, a common one is a fear of falling in the toilet. This fear can be easily addressed by offering a child seat or potty before graduating to a regular toilet.

Other fears don’t have such a practical solution, such as being afraid that something will come out of the toilet, being worried about their poop leaving (separation fear), and fear of pain.

If your child appears resistant about sitting on a toilet, ask them whether they are afraid. Allow your child to express that fear and ask questions in a non-judgemental way to better understand it.

You can provide feedback and information at whether their fear is valid, but make sure not to trivialize or laugh away their fear. If this is impeding their potty training, it is clearly something that they think is important.

If the fear is related to pain, then your child might be experiencing some level of constipation or diarrhea. In some instances, children might remember and be afraid to experience it again. In this case, you can validate the experience and reassure them that the pain will not happen every time.

Children with a more anxious temperament might not be as easily reassured or comforted when fears are addressed. Be patient.

Withholding and Constipation

Withholding is the conscious effort to prevent a bowel movement. Some children withhold due to fear, not being ready or needing a sense of control.

It comes to no surprise that frequent withholding leads to constipation due to the child learning to ignore their body’s signals and because stagnant stool leads to blockages.

Frequent constipation often causes pain when the child finally does have a bowel movement, in turn increasing their avoidance of bowel movements. Signs your child is constipated include decreased appetite, small hard stools, and expressions of pain during a bowel movement.

This vicious cycle can be broken by increasing the body’s signals and reducing the likelihood of constipation through dietary changes. Here are a few basic suggestions:

  • Water: Increase your child’s water intake. Avoid high sugary drinks like fruit juices and sodas. Milk can be hydrating but should not replace water. Too much dairy can increase risk of constipation in some toddlers.
  • High Fiber foods: Prioritize high-fiber foods, such as most fruits, vegetables and oatmeal. You can increase vegetable intake indirectly by adding it to smoothies, tomato sauces and soups. Reduce refined sugars (cookies, cake, candy, prepackaged snacks).

Do you have a picky eater or have more questions on how to make these dietary changes? Connecting with your primary care provider or a registered child dietician can help.

Using the Wrong Reinforcer

All children are motivated by parental praise. High-fives, hugs, smiles, and verbal expressions of pride can go a long way in increasing any behaviour including potty training and should always be used first.

However, praise is not sufficient for some toddlers. Generally, children will be motivated by different things, depending on their temperament and preferences. Some children are motivated by tangible reinforcers like treats, stickers, or permissions. Others are motivated by social modeling or a desire to be more independent.

Figuring out what motivates your child can help move potty training along. Keep in mind the following when using reinforcers:

  • If you are using tangible reinforcers, make sure they are of token value (e.g., one gummy bear instead of a bag of candy, one sticker instead of a new toy and 10 more minutes of TV instead of a movie before bedtime).
  • Children who are motivated by a desire for independence or by social modeling, might benefit from watching other children or parents go to the washroom or helping younger children get potty trained. For these children, you can encourage them by asking if they want to be like their sibling, friend or cousin.

Life Transitions

You should avoid potty training just before or after a big change in your child’s life. For example, its not a good idea to start potty training when the child is starting a new daycare, moving homes, adjusting to a new sibling, or experiencing parental separation.

Children need to focus on adapting to these transitions and your attempts at potty training are more likely to be met with failure and frustration creating a negative experience for them.

So when is the right time? There is no perfect timing but aim for a few quiet weeks where you can concentrate on potty training.


Similarly, potty-trained toddlers can experience a regression in their potty training when confronted with big life changes. Even older children can experience a few day-time accidents or bed wetting.

Such a regression is completely normal. What you need to do is to arm yourself with a lot of patience.

If your child has been fully poly potty trained before, then they have the emotional and physical capacity to go to the washroom on their own. They will go back to being fully potty train once they have adapted to the new situation. It is really a question of time and how much support and understanding we provide during the transition.

I Have Tried These Strategies, and Nothing Seems to Work!

Although several strategies you can use as a parent to help your child become potty trained (including the strategies described above) many things are outside your control. A child might not be physiologically, physically, emotionally, or cognitively ready to potty train.

Forcing a child to potty train too early and it may result in increased meltdowns and trantrums, loss of self-esteem and confidence, and fears which can all in themselves delay readiness.

If your child does not start to react favorably within 1-3 weeks, stop and try again in 2-3 months.

Dr. Leon is an experienced and dedicated psychologist who works with children and their parents on a variety of behaviours, including potty training. If you are struggling with potty training even after having put in place the strategies described above, a parent consultation can help you and your child.

For further reading:

  • General potty training book: Oh Crap! Potty Training: Everything Modern Parents Need to Know to Do It Once and Do It Right – by Jamie Glowacki
  • Children’s book for children who withhold: It Hurts When I Poop! : A Story For Children Who Are Scared To Use the Potty – by Dr. Howard J. Bennett

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I be supportive of my child if they have accidents or experience a regression?

The most important thing is to not punish or shame them when they have accidents. Normalise that this can happen and that you will help them get to the washroom the next time. Support your child by expressing your firm belief that in time they will stop having accidents.

Can I give my child a laxative if he is withholding and constipated?

There are over-the-counter medications that can help with occasional constipation in children. These medications are not to be used continuously but can help break the cycle of withholding and constipation. Note that you should always ask your primary care provider first before using any new medications or if your child is experiencing chronic constipation. Your primary care provider will also be able to rule out uncommon but serious medical conditions that can cause constipation.

How do I know if my child is ready to be potty trained?

Factors associated with readiness include being capable of taking off diaper/underwear on their own, being able to access a bathroom on their own, showing interest in being potty trained, showing signs that they know a bowel movement is coming, feeling upset or ashamed when they soil their diaper, asking for their diapers to be changed, going longer periods of time without their diapers getting wet. A combination of 3 or more of these is probably a sign that you can start talking to your child about potty training.

Troubleshooting potty training issues involves maintaining patience and consistency while identifying potential triggers, such as stress or changes in routine, that might affect the child’s progress. Adapting the potty training approach, offering positive reinforcement, and avoiding punishment can help address challenges, creating a supportive environment for the child to learn and succeed in their potty training journey.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.

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Simple yet effective ways for parents to care for themselves in order to prevent parental burnout.


Raising kids can be one of the most life-changing and rewarding periods of your life, but it can also be exhausting and overwhelming.

Parents typically make their kids their top priority, sometimes even putting them above their own needs. But parents need to make time for themselves so they can continue to be at their best.

If they don’t, they run the risk of having a parental burnout.

What is parental burnout?

You probably have heard of burnout in the context of work. But a burnout can happen in any situation where there is chronic stress stemming from the feeling that the demands put on you are greater than your capacity to address them.

For parental burnout, this includes feelings of being overwehlmed by the parenting role and being ineffective as a parent.

Signs of parental burnout

Common signs include:

  • Irritable, easily angered, short-fused
  • Feeling overwelmed and like you can’t keep up
  • Worries about your ability as a parent
  • Worries about your child(ren)’s wellbeing
  • Emotionally distancing yourself from your kids and others
  • Feeling hopeless and helpless
  • Increased frequency and time spent ill
  • Fatigue and changes in sleep patterns
  • Lack of enthusiasm towards things you use to enjoy
  • Resentment towards children or other parents that appear to ”have it together”

Parental burnout is most common in parents of children who have health issues, developmental concerns or have more difficult temperaments, but really it can happen to anyone.

Impact of parental burnout on the family

Research shows that parental burnout is associated with marital conflict and a higher likelihood of neglect and violence towards children. In other words, parental burnout makes you a worse partner and a worse parent.

The Oxygen Mask

When you fly on an airplane, the flight attendant instructs parents to put their own oxygen mask first before assisting their child. Why? Because if the parent tries to take care of the child first they run the risk of passing out before they can finish, endangering their child’s and their own life.

In other words, parents need to take care of themselves first so that they can be at their best to take care of their children.

Preventing and managing parental burnout through self-care

Often when we hear about self-care, it is associated with baths and candles. Although these can certainly be part of it, self-care is about turning inwards and getting in touch with our basic needs, noticing whether these are met on a daily or perhaps weekly basis. Don’t forget that certain activities can fufill more than one need!

Physical needs

This usually includes sleep, eating and exercise. Ask yourself these questions:

Are you sleeping well? Are you eating too little or too much? Are you eating foods that give you energy rather than depending on caffeine? Are you drinking enough water? Are you avoiding relying on alcohol or drugs to relax? Are you getting regular exercise?

If you answer ‘no’ to one or more, this might be an area to work on.

Social needs

This includes a need for connection with family and friends, community involvement, and intimacy with a partner. Ask yourself these questions:

Do you connect with friends and family regularly? Do you feel you can confide in people? Do you feel you can rely on them when you need help? Are you involved in your community or part of a religious group? Do you and your partner take time to kiss, hug, cuddle and be physically intimate?

If you answer ‘no’ to one or more, this might be an area to work on.

Intellectual needs

This includes the need to learn, be challenged, and be entertained. Ask yourself these questions:

Do you have a hobby or a special interest? How do you engage in this? Is there something you would like to learn?

If you answer ‘no’ to one or more, this might be an area to work on.

How can I practice self-care?

So take some time today for a self-check. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How am I feeling?
  • Have I been neglected some aspect of my wellbeing?
  • Do I have needs that are not being fufilled?

Then, make a concrete plan for a small step to remedy this. This can be the hardest part; finding extra time in your busy family schedule, but it is possible and necessary.

Here are a few examples to help get you started:

  • Need to boost your social connection? Call a friend while driving or busing to work.
  • Need to exercise more? Go jogging on a bike path while the kids are biking
  • Want to learn something new? Listen to a podcast while doing a household chore
  • Need more alone time? Get a babysitter once every few weeks.

Experiencing a burnout right now? Get help: Parent Consultations and adult psychotherapy

Dr. Leon is a child and adolescent psychologist who is knowledgeable in parental burnout. If part of your burnout is related to feelings of ineffectiveness in your parenting, parent consultations can help you with concrete tools to address this issue.

You might also want to consider getting psychotherapy to address underlying issues such as anxiety, depression, coping mechanisms, and long standing relational patterns.

Frequently Asked Questions

Am I a bad parent because I feel overwhelmed?

No. Our society glorifies perfect parents who appear to have it all; the successful and polite kids, the high paying job, the clean house, the dutiful marriage, the great friendships and a toned body. But unless you have the financial means to hire tons of help, this is almost unattainable. No wonder many parents feel overwelmed. Stop the comparison, look at your family situation and set expectations for yourself that are realistic and healthy.

How can parental self-care benefit my child?

Self-care is a gift to our children. Showing kids that paying attention to how we feel (mental health) and take action is the best modeling we can do to ensure our children’s happiness and resilience. Self-care can also help prevent parental burnout which is associated with negative outcomes for families and children.

How can I find the time to practice self-care?

Think of times in your schedule where you can let go, delegate or eliminate. To start, it can be as simple as turning off your phone earlier to get better quality sleep instead of scrolling endlessly. Then, it can be hiring a sitter 2 hours per week so you can get a workout done or take that art class guilt-free.

How can I practice self-care when I am financially restricted?

Money troubles and tight finances are a big source of stress for many families. There are great ressources online to help struggling families to set budgets, spend less and save more. Self-care is not about spending more on yourself, it is about finding out what you need to cope with life’s challenges and finding creative ways to address that need.

Preventing parental burnout involves prioritizing self-care, setting boundaries, and seeking support from family, friends, or professionals when needed. Addressing parental burnout requires acknowledging its signs, such as chronic fatigue or irritability, and taking proactive steps like delegating tasks, scheduling regular breaks, and seeking professional help if symptoms persist. Cultivating a supportive network, practicing stress-management techniques, and fostering open communication within the family can aid in preventing and addressing parental burnout effectively.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.


Learn effective emotional regulation strategies for children and teens. Help them navigate their emotions and develop valuable coping skills for life.


Emotional regulation is an important part of a child’s development. As parents, it’s our responsibility to help our kids learn how to manage their difficult emotions and feelings. Ultimately, we want them to develop self-regulation skills for dealing with difficult emotions on their own. 

In this article, we’ll explore five effective strategies that parents and caregivers can use for teaching emotional regulation skills to children in a healthy and constructive way.

What Is Emotional Regulation?

Emotion regulation is the essential ability to recognize, understand, and effectively manage emotional control in a healthy and balanced way, even in the face of challenging situations.

It involves being aware of your emotions, identifying them accurately, and implementing strategies to regulate their intensity and emotional expression. Just like any other skill, emotional self-regulation in children is something that is learned and developed over time.

Why Is Healthy Emotional Regulation In Children Important? 

Children with positive emotion regulation skills are better prepared to cope with life’s inevitable tragedies. When faced with difficult circumstances, they can process their emotions, seek support, and engage in self-care. This resilience helps them bounce back from adversity. 

These children are not immune to experiencing difficult emotions. In fact, the goal is not to eliminate difficult emotions, but to have the tools to manage them constructively.

5 Emotional Regulation Strategies For Children & Teens 

Here are some strategies to aid in the development of emotion regulation in kids and teens. 

  1. Teach kids to identify their feelings (emotional awareness).

The first step in regulation of emotion for children is to help them learn to identify and name their feelings, which is called emotional awareness. Encourage your child to express and name their feelings, creating a safe space for open communication.

This can be done by labeling emotions when they arise, such as saying “you seem frustrated right now” or “you seem excited right now.” This helps them to become more aware of their emotions and understand how they are feeling. Utilize visual aids, storytelling, and books to help children recognize different emotions and validate their experiences.

  1. Try some emotional regulation activities for kids. 

Another important strategy is to help kids learn to manage their emotions in a healthy way. This can be done by encouraging them to talk about how they are feeling and helping them find constructive ways to express their emotions.

For example, if they are feeling angry, they can take deep breaths, go for a walk, or draw a picture of their feelings.

  1. Teach mindfulness strategies. 

Teach your child simple mindfulness exercises such as deep breathing, finger breathing, or body scans that help them understand the connection between emotions and physical sensations. Explain that they can better manage their emotions by learning to be present in the moment.

Practice deep breathing exercises together when they are calm. Then try using it during stressful situations. For school aged children, you can introduce relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery.

  1. Demonstrate coping strategies for managing strong emotions.

It’s also important to help children learn to manage strong emotions when they experience them. Coping strategies are activities that can help calm them down.

Activities that engage their senses can be particularly calming, such as taking a shower or bath (touch), listening to music (hearing), and swinging or dancing (proprioception).

  1. Model how to regulate emotions as a parent. 

Parent modeling is another crucial part of emotion regulation. Children learn by observing. Display healthy emotional regulation in your own behavior, showing them how to handle stress, frustration, or disappointment calmly.

You can also promote empathy by modeling empathic behaviors and encouraging your child to consider others’ perspectives and emotions. Engage in activities such as role-playing or storytelling to foster understanding. Help them grasp the impact of their actions on others’ well-being.

When parents model healthy ways of expressing emotions, such as talking through their feelings, children are more likely to learn how to do the same.

Tips for Helping Children With Poor Emotional Regulation

Create a calming environment

Designate a quiet, peaceful space where your child can retreat when overwhelmed. Fill it with comforting items like soft blankets, sensory toys, or calming music. This safe space allows them to self-regulate and find solace during intense emotions.

Practice emotional coaching

When your child experiences strong emotions, validate their feelings and help them understand the underlying reasons. Use phrases like “I see you’re feeling upset. Can you tell me what happened?” This approach helps them develop emotional intelligence and promotes self-reflection.

Establish clear expectations

Set clear boundaries and expectations regarding appropriate behavior. Clearly communicate the consequences of their actions while emphasizing the importance of emotional self-control. Consistency and follow-through are key to helping children understand the importance of emotional regulation.

Encourage physical activity

Engage your child in physical activities to help release pent-up emotions. Exercise, sports, or even a simple walk can provide a healthy outlet for their energy and emotions. Physical activity also stimulates the release of endorphins, which can improve their mood.

Use visual aids

Visual aids such as emotion charts, feeling faces, or emotion thermometers can assist your child in identifying and expressing their emotions. These tools help them develop a vocabulary for their feelings and enhance their emotional awareness.

​​Recognizing When to Seek Help: Child Psychotherapy Services

If your child continues to struggle with emotional regulation, consider seeking professional support from a therapist or psychologist experienced in working with children. Dr. Leon is an experienced clinician who is passionate about helping children and adolescents navigate emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties as well as supporting parents in providing optimal parenting when faced with these challenges.

Explore Dr. Leon’s Child Psychotherapy services today to help your child gain the skills they need to regulate their emotions.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are some effective strategies for teaching emotional regulation to children and teens?

One effective strategy is teaching deep breathing exercises or mindfulness techniques to help children and teens calm their minds and bodies during moments of heightened emotion. Another strategy is encouraging them to engage in activities that promote self-reflection, such as journaling or engaging in creative outlets like art or music. 

What are the potential benefits of practicing emotional regulation strategies in childhood and adolescence?

Practicing emotional regulation strategies in childhood and adolescence can have numerous benefits. It helps children and teens develop resilience. Emotional regulation skills can also lead to better decision-making, reduced impulsivity, and improved academic performance. These skills provide a foundation for healthier emotional well-being and mental health throughout their lives.

How can emotional regulation skills learned in childhood impact well-being in adulthood?

Emotional regulation skills learned in childhood and adolescence play a crucial role in shaping an individual’s overall well-being and success in adulthood. They contribute to better mental health outcomes and can reduce the risk of developing anxiety, depression, and other emotional disorders.

While some kids like and use breating and mindful strategies, others don’t. Try these alternative calming activities for kids:

  • Doodling /coloring on skin with erasable markers
  • Ripping paper, cutting cardboard boxes
  • Doing headstands, jumping jacks, push-ups
  • Using a swing, turning in circles
  • Making a blanket tent, weighted blanket, or special place in a closet

Teaching emotional regulation strategies to kids is vital as it equips them with tools to manage and express their feelings constructively, fostering healthier relationships and improved self-control. It enables children to navigate challenging situations with resilience, reducing the likelihood of impulsive behavior and promoting better decision-making skills. By learning how to regulate emotions, kids can develop greater empathy, communication skills, and a stronger sense of overall well-being as they grow into adulthood.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.

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