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.

  • ”Ruby Finds a Worry” by Tom Percival
  • ”How Big Are Your Worries Little Bear” by Jayneen Sanders

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 watch TV after school?

This is a personal decision as a family. Watching TV is not inherently bad or good for kids, there is research supporting both (although keep in mind that the research is mostly negative when it comes to social media). The most important thing to consider when making this family decision is whether watching TV 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 TV 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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Unlock your child’s true potential with expert guidance on navigating ADHD in children. Discover effective strategies for helping your child thrive.


Raising kids and teens can be quite an adventure, filled with ups, downs, and everything in between. But when your child has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the journey can come with unique challenges. That’s why I created this guide for parents on navigating ADHD in children and helping them reach their full potential.

ADHD is more than just a phase or a temporary difficulty—it’s a condition that affects millions of children and teens worldwide. But by providing the right tools, strategies, and support, you can make a tremendous difference in your child’s development and help them thrive.

What Is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (sometimes called attention-deficit disorder or ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulty with inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsive behaviour. It’s estimated that 5-9% of children and 3-5% of adults have ADHD. One of the primary difficulties associated with ADHD is cognitive functioning, which affects a person’s thinking and reasoning.

The cognitive difficulties associated with ADHD can be divided into two main areas: executive functioning and attention/working memory.

Executive functioning

Executive functioning involves the ability to plan and organize, set goals, and regulate emotions. People with ADHD often have difficulty in these areas, making it hard for them to manage their daily activities and get tasks completed.

Attention and working memory

Attention and working memory (the ability to hold information in your mind for a brief period) are also affected in those with ADHD. This can lead to symptoms like:

  • being easily distracted
  • difficulty following directives
  • trouble completing tasks

Other cognitive issues associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children 

Other cognitive issues that those with ADHD may experience include difficulty recognizing patterns, problem-solving, and understanding abstract concepts. These difficulties can make it difficult for those with ADHD to do well in school and maintain social relationships.

ADHD Symptoms In Children

Signs of inattention:

  • Does not follow rules or instructions
  • Loses materials/belongings
  • Difficulty starting and completing tasks
  • Avoid tasks that require sustained effort
  • Gets easily distracted by self or others
  • Appears to have trouble with memory (forgetful)
  • Seems not to listen when spoken to
  • Makes careless mistakes

Talk to your child’s teacher if you notice six or more of these common symptoms. If they have detected them, too, it is recommended to get your child assessed for ADHD. Remember that some children with ADHD, particularly girls, present without impulsive symptoms or hyperactivity.

Signs & Symptoms Of Hyperactivity In Children

Signs of hyperactivity are more noticeable than signs of inattention. Teachers and school counselors are the ones who typically see it firsthand due to the demands of classroom environments. However, kids vary in their level of activity and level of maturity.

  • Very active, high energy, ‘driven by a motor’
  • Interrupting others, having trouble with social skills, and talking too much
  • Can’t wait in line or their turn when playing
  • Prone to being clumsy and having accidents
  • Squirm, fidget, pace
  • Difficulty staying silent or calm
  • Wanders and gets up constantly

When assessing hyperactivity, I always urge parents and teachers to determine if the activity/impulsivity is indeed above and beyond what a typical child would display at that age.

If you and your child’s teacher notice these signs, it is recommended to get your child assessed for ADHD.

10 Tips For Parents Managing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder In Children

As a parent, controlling essential environmental factors at home is key. If you can help your children with ADHD live a healthy lifestyle under your roof, then you can set them up to become happy, functioning adults later in life. 

Establish a strong home routine. 

Consistency is key for children with ADHD. Create a structured daily routine with set times for waking up, meals, homework, chores, and bedtime. Having a predictable schedule can provide a sense of stability and help children stay focused.

Create an organized environment. 

Reduce distractions by organizing the child’s living space. Use storage bins, labels, and color-coding systems to keep things tidy and easily accessible. Minimize clutter and create a designated study area with minimal distractions.

Break tasks into smaller steps. 

Large tasks can be overwhelming for children with ADHD. Break them down into smaller, more manageable steps. Provide clear instructions and use visual aids or checklists to help them stay on track.

Use visual reminders. 

Visual cues can be helpful for children with ADHD to remember tasks and responsibilities. Utilize visual schedules, calendars, or timers to help them stay organized and manage time effectively.

Provide frequent breaks. 

Children with ADHD often have difficulty sustaining focus and sit still for extended periods. Allow them to take short breaks during tasks or homework sessions. Encourage physical activity during these breaks to help release excess energy.

Encourage regular exercise. 

Physical activity has been shown to benefit individuals with ADHD. Encourage your child to exercise regularly or participate in sports, dancing, or martial arts, as it can help reduce hyperactivity and improve focus.

Implement behaviour management techniques. 

Positive reinforcement and reward systems can be effective in shaping desired behaviours. Offer praise, encouragement, and rewards for completing tasks, following instructions, or exhibiting self-control.

Limit screen time. 

Although television and video games do not cause ADHD, excessive screen time can take away from other important activities. It is important to establish reasonable limits on screen time and encourage other activities, such as reading, outdoor play, or hobbies that promote engagement and focus.

Foster open communication. 

Maintain open lines of communication with your child. Listen to their concerns, frustrations, and triumphs. Work together to problem-solve and find strategies that work best for them.

Seek professional support. 

Consider involving professionals, such as therapists, psychologists, or support groups, who specialize in working with children with ADHD. They can provide guidance, coping strategies, and additional resources to support your child’s development. 

What About Medication For ADHD?

Research suggests that a combination of psychotherapy and medication is the best approach to ADHD. It appears that starting psychotherapy first can be most beneficial.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that, by definition, presents with cognitive and behavioral symptoms from early childhood. Although symptoms often decrease in severity in adulthood, they tend to remain throughout life.

Nevertheless, with proper diagnosis, treatment, and support, children (and eventually adults) with ADHD can learn to recognize their strengths and gain self-understanding to help them lead productive and meaningful lives.

Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help With ADHD?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy that focuses on how thoughts and beliefs influence behaviour, can help children and adolescents with ADHD. The goal of CBT and behavioral treatments may include strategies to organize their materials, plan their work, and set reminders. Setting up the home environment to support children and teens with ADHD also helps with behavioral interventions.

Parents of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are usually recommended to develop and maintain consistent routines at home. They are also encouraged to model explicit organizational skills and strategies, such as a family planner or calendar.

Can ADHD Cause Emotional Issues?

ADHD can also cause a range of emotional issues, such as difficulty controlling anger and frustration, anxiety disorders, conduct disorders, and low mood. Therefore, it is important for individuals with ADHD to be aware of their emotional responses and to develop strategies to manage them.

Therapy is recommended for children with ADHD who suffer from emotional and mood disorders. During therapy, the psychotherapist or psychologist works with the patient to identify and challenge negative or automatic thoughts that may be contributing to their symptoms.

Through this process, the therapist helps the patient learn to reframe their thoughts in a more positive and helpful manner, identify triggers for their symptoms, as well as techniques for managing their emotions. Self-regulation skills can include deep breathing, mindfulness, physical activity, pleasurable activities, or sensory activities.

Risks Associated With Untreated ADHD In Children 

Allowing children with ADHD to go untreated can have several potential risks and negative consequences. 

Academic difficulties

ADHD can significantly impact a child’s academic performance. Inattention, impulsivity, and difficulties with organization can make it challenging for them to concentrate, complete assignments, and follow instructions in the classroom. Eventually, symptoms can lead to falling behind in school, lower grades, and decreased academic achievement.

Social and relationship challenges

Children with untreated ADHD may struggle with social interactions and forming positive peer relationships. Their impulsive behaviours, difficulty with turn-taking, and inattentiveness can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and social isolation. Unfortunately, these struggles can negatively affect their self-esteem and overall social development.

Emotional and mental health issues

ADHD is sometimes accompanied by emotional and mental health challenges. Children with untreated ADHD may experience increased frustration, anger, and irritability due to their difficulties with impulse control and managing emotions. They may also be at higher risk for developing anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

Risk-taking behaviour

Sometimes, children and teens with untreated ADHD can engage in impulsive and risky behaviours. Children with ADHD may engage in dangerous activities without considering the consequences, leading to accidents or injuries. Teens in particular may also be more prone to experimenting with substances, as impulsivity and thrill-seeking behaviours increase the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviours.

Long-term impact

If left untreated for too long, childhood ADHD can have long-term effects throughout life. The difficulties experienced in childhood can persist into adolescence and adulthood, impacting academic and career success, relationships, and overall quality of life. Untreated ADHD may also increase the risk of developing comorbid mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders or substance use disorders.

Get Help: Neuropsychology Intervention

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

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Frequently Asked Questions 

I have ADHD. Will my child have ADHD? 

ADHD is highly hereditary (meaning it often occurs in families). Parents with ADHD are 40% more lilely to have a child of ADHD.

Can ADHD symptoms change as a child grows older? 

ADHD symptoms can evolve as a child matures. While hyperactivity may decrease with age, inattention and impulsivity can persist into adolescence and adulthood. Be sure to monitor and adapt strategies at home to address changing needs.

Are there any specific parenting techniques or strategies that can help children with ADHD? 

Several parenting techniques can benefit children with ADHD. These include establishing clear rules and expectations, using positive reinforcement, providing structure and routine, breaking tasks into manageable steps, and promoting open communication. Consider exploring parent consultation services to learn more. 

How can I effectively communicate with my child’s teachers about their ADHD and support their educational needs? 

Share information about your child’s ADHD diagnosis, discuss their strengths and challenges, and collaborate on strategies to support their learning in the classroom. Regular check-ins, progress updates, and an individualized education plan (IEP) can facilitate effective communication and support.

Are there any dietary or lifestyle changes that can help ADHD management in children? 

While no specific diet has been proven to cure ADHD, some evidence suggests that a balanced diet rich in omega 3s, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is best for brain health. Additionally, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and low-stress can contribute to overall well-being and can minimize the impact of ADHD symptoms. Consulting with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian can provide personalized guidance.

You can support ADHD kids by establishing clear routines and structures to help them stay organized and focused, breaking tasks into manageable steps with regular breaks to avoid overwhelm. Utilizing positive reinforcement and praising their efforts to boost confidence and motivation, while also employing strategies like visual aids, timers, and frequent check-ins to help them stay on track and manage their time effectively is also crucial. Finally, encourage their interests and strengths, fostering a supportive environment that celebrates their accomplishments and provides outlets for their creativity and energy.

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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We all know how crucial a good night’s sleep is for children’s growth and well-being. In this blog post, we’ll explore practical strategies to establish a solid sleep routine and create a sleep-friendly environment for your little ones. 

Here’s what parents need to know about promoting positive sleep hygiene for kids. (Bonus: these tips work well for grown-ups, too!) 

What Is Sleep Hygiene? 

Sleep hygiene refers to a set of healthy sleeping habits that enables children and adolescents to fall asleep more quickly and can enhance sleep duration and quality. Without good sleep hygiene, children can experience sleep issues, including difficulty falling asleep, frequent night wakings, and waking up too early.

What Are The Side Effects Of Poor Sleep Hygiene In Children? 

If your child suffers from sleepless nights, you may have noticed some less than ideal side-effects. Research shows that not getting enough sleep can cause:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Behavioral issues (irritability, mood swings, temper tantrums)
  • Reduced cognitive functioning (memory, attention, problem-solving)
  • Physical health problems (weakened immune function, obesity)
  • Emotional disturbances (anxiety, mood disturbances, symptoms of depression)
  • Impaired growth and development
  • Increased risk of accidents
  • Difficulty concentrating and learning
  • Academic performance decline
  • Higher susceptibility to illnesses and infections
  • Impaired decision-making abilities

8 Ways To Establish Good Sleep Hygiene In Children

Consistency and routine are key in establishing sleep hygiene. Here are recommendations to help your child get better sleep:

  1. Maintain a consistent bedtime. 

Maintaining a consistent bedtime is a key factor in promoting healthy sleep habits for children. Our bodies have a natural internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, which regulates our sleep-wake cycle. 

When we establish a regular bedtime routine and stick to it, we help synchronize this internal clock, making it easier for our kids to fall asleep and wake up at the desired times.

To optimize the effectiveness of a consistent bedtime, aim for a window of around 30 minutes. 

  1. Get plenty of exercise during the day. 

Between computers, television, and cell phones, many kids and teens don’t get sufficient regular physical activity. 

Make sure your child is physically active (getting out of breath) at least 15 minutes per day. 

Stuck inside because of the weather? Make an effort to turn off the TV and cellphones and get moving. Race inside the halls of your home, practice cartwheels and handstands, go walk in a mall, anything to get your kids moving. 

  1. Spend time outside. 

Incorporating outdoor time into your child’s daily routine can have a positive impact on their sleep hygiene. Aim for at least 30 minutes of outdoor playtime each day, preferably during daylight hours. 

Whether it’s a walk in the park, playing in the backyard, or participating in outdoor sports or activities, encourage your child to spend time outside and soak up the natural light.

Even on cloudy or snowy days, sunlight still filters through the clouds and provides beneficial rays. When we spend time outdoors, our eyes receive natural light, which stimulates the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes wakefulness and positive mood. 

This exposure to sunlight during the day helps reinforce our natural circadian rhythm, making it easier for our bodies to distinguish between day and night.

  1. Bedtime should be boring! 

Creating a relaxing bedtime routine is crucial in preparing your child’s body and mind for sleep. The concept of “bedtime should be boring” emphasizes the need to avoid stimulating or exciting activities close to bedtime, as they can interfere with the natural transition to sleep.

Consider incorporating the following into your child’s bedtime routine: 

  • Soft, relaxing music
  • Reading age-appropriate books 
  • Relaxing sensory activities, such as puzzles, drawing, coloring, or engaging with sensory toys like stress balls or squishy toys 
  1. Never underestimate the sleeping environment. 

Creating a dark and soothing sleep environment is crucial for promoting quality sleep in children. Removing sources of light, such as electronics and alarm clocks, and investing in blackout curtains can help create a conducive atmosphere. 

While a dim night light may provide comfort, minimizing exposure to electronic devices and incorporating calming elements like white noise machines or fans can enhance the sleep environment. 

Prioritizing a dark and peaceful setting helps signal to the child’s body that it’s time for rest, improving their sleep quality.

  1. Night wakings. 

If your child/teen is unable to fall asleep at bedtime or during the night for more than 45 minutes, encourage them to get up, stretch or do something boring until you feel sufficiently sleepy. No electronics! Lights should remain dimmed.

It is recommended that night lights be 2000 kelvins or less (i.e., the light should be of red-yellow hue, warmth is measured in kelvins) and 50 lumens or lower (lumens is a measurement of how much light the bulb gives off).

  1. Relaxation techniques. 

Learn and practice together relaxing strategies to help reduce tension before sleep, such as meditation, mindfulness exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation. My favorite is the happy place visualization technique.

  1. Address mental health issues. 

Anxiety and depression are known to interfere with sleep, make sure these are being addressed in child psychotherapy or adolescent psychotherapy.

Things To Avoid For Healthy Sleep Hygiene 

  1. Caffeine in the afternoon or later. Be aware that caffeine is present in coffee and tea but also in sodas and chocolate (and most Starbucks drinks!)
  2. Sending your child to bed with a full stomach or full bladder. Digestion and having to use the washroom can disrupt your child’s sleep. Late night snacking might be a cue that the body is tired rather than hungry.
  3. High intensity exercise or hot baths right before bed. Research shows that the body temperature must be cool to feel comfortable falling asleep. However, light exercise and a warm shower or bath right before bedtime can help some individuals relax. Experiment with what works best for your child.
  4. Electronics at least 30 minutes before bed. This includes the computer, tablet, phone, and TV. If listening to music, make sure not to look at the screen. 
  5. Checking the time, as this may create more anxiety. Make sure your child or teen’s alarm clock face is turned away so that they’re not constantly checking the time. 
  6. Sleep trackers should be used with caution. For some teens, it can create more anxiety knowing they didn’t spend sufficient time in deep sleep. Focusing on ”feeling refreshed” might be a better metric.

If Ongoing Sleep Issues Persist

Of note, if your child continues to have difficulty with sleep despite implementing the above suggestions, you should talk to your family doctor to rule-out medical issues, such as obstructive sleep apnea. Your family doctor can also recommend supplements to help with sleep (like melatonin or magnesium) if needed.

Parent Consultations For Bedtime Solution: Parent Consultations

If you’re struggling with specific sleep issues or need personalized guidance in forming effective bedtime routines for your child, Dr. Leon can help. Each session includes expert advice and tailored strategies to address your child’s unique needs. 

Prioritize your child’s sleep health and schedule a parent consultation today to unlock the secrets to better bedtime routines and improved sleep for the whole family. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

How much sleep do children need at different ages? 

The recommended sleep durations vary by age. On average, preschoolers (3-5 years) need 10-13 hours, school-age children (6-12 years) require 9-12 hours, and teenagers (13-18 years) should aim for 8-10 hours of sleep per night.

Are there any specific bedtime routines that can help promote better sleep? 

Yes, establishing a consistent bedtime routine can be highly beneficial. A bedtime routine might include activities like a warm bath, reading a book, listening to calming music, or engaging in relaxation exercises. The key is to choose activities that promote relaxation and signal to the child that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep.

How can I create a sleep-friendly environment in my child’s bedroom? 

To create a sleep-friendly environment, ensure the bedroom is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Remove or minimize sources of light, use blackout curtains or blinds, and consider using white noise machines to block out disruptive sounds. Keep the bedroom free from electronics and ensure a comfortable mattress and bedding.

What strategies can I use to address bedtime resistance and ensure my child falls asleep easily?

To address bedtime resistance, establish a consistent sleep schedule, set clear expectations and boundaries, and gradually adjust the routine if needed. Create a calming bedtime routine, provide comfort and reassurance, and limit stimulating activities close to bedtime. If the resistance persists, consult with a pediatrician or sleep specialist for further guidance and support.

You can promote good sleep hygiene for kids by establishing a consistent bedtime routine that includes calming activities like reading or gentle music, helping signal their bodies it’s time to wind down. Create a sleep-conducive environment by keeping their bedroom dark, cool, and comfortable, limiting screen time before bed, and ensuring they get enough physical activity during the day to support restful sleep. Encourage regular sleep schedules, aiming for age-appropriate amounts of sleep each night to promote better overall health, mood, and cognitive function.

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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Learn to boost your child’s social and emotional development through reading. Equip your child with essential skills for a brighter future. 


You might initially think reading books is good for language development—and you’d be right! Reading books can help a child learn vocabulary they don’t frequently encounter, and it can help them learn syntax and grammar. 

But reading books with your children means so much more than that. 

It’s also important to promote positive behaviours and cognitive and social development—especially when incorporating Social Emotional Learning (SEL) principles into reading activities. 

In this article, I’ll explore how parents can teach social-emotional skills through reading and how you, as a parent, can help support language, cognitive, social, and emotional intelligence using books as early as infancy.

Benefits Of Teaching Social-Emotional Learning Through Reading 

The body of research supporting social-emotional learning continues to grow. Combining the power of storytelling with social-emotional skills concepts helps parents:

Children 0 to 18 Months Old

Picture books are a great way to introduce babies and toddlers to the world. Start by using picture books to point at objects and name them. You can also point out colors and shapes. Eventually, you can move on to pointing out actions (e.g., the boy is running/eating/ crying). 

At this age, your child may be unable to sit through a whole story (that’s okay). So each time you pick up a book, focus on a different aspect of the story. Repetition is good, so a few books are sufficient. 

When reading whole stories, choose books that are short and rhyme. Rhyming is very important for early language development.

Children 18 Months To 3 Years Old

As your child’s language, cognitive, and motor skills develop, start asking your child to point to objects on the page (e.g., Where is the duck? Show me the duck!). 

Start with obvious elements of the book and work towards elements that might be less noticeable or harder to find. This will teach your child to scan a page for information

Also, point out how that same thing might look different on another page because it’s drawn from a different angle (e.g., here is the girl eating, here is the same girl taking a bath).

Children 3 To 6 Years Old

When your child starts speaking in sentences, ask them questions about the story before turning to the next page (e.g., what happens next?). 

You will notice that even with books you may have read together many times, they might not have yet been able to retain the storyline or understand action-reaction. 

Then you can start asking questions that work on perspective taking: how is the boy feeling (point to sad face), why does the boy look sad?

Children In Elementary School

At first, shared reading (where the child reads one page, and the parent reads the other page) can help a new reader to continue enjoying books. Pre-reading activities can also support reading comprehension. 

Reviewing pictures and subheadings along with new vocabulary and concepts before beginning to read can help your child link new information with material that was learned previously. 

Asking questions about the material is also important; factual questions and questions requiring your child to make inferences and predictions are best.

Children In High School

At this point, shared reading is no longer an option, but you can continue supporting reading by having books available in the home. Books are expensive, and not everyone has the space to store large quantities of books. 

I suggest leveraging your public library as a resource. Every few weeks, visit your library and encourage your teen to pick a book. 

Maybe your teen prefers comic books, and those are fine too. The joy of reading is something built over time.

Don’t Forget Parent Modeling!

If you switch on the TV (or get on your phone) as soon as supper is done and don’t turn it off until you go to bed, it’s hard to expect your child not to do the same. 

Model for your child by picking up a book in the evening and reading a few pages. 

Reading before sleep can help you feel sleepy and reduces the negative effects of blue light emitted from electronic devices, which can harm your sleep cycle. If reading regularly is new for you, start small (5 mins) and work your way up.

Get Help: Parent Consultation Services

Whether you require assistance selecting appropriate books, implementing effective strategies, or assessing your child’s progress, Dr. Leon’s parent consultation services can provide valuable insights and resources to enhance your SEL journey. 

With a post-session summary of recommendations and access to additional resources, you’ll have the support you need to navigate the complexities of teaching SEL through reading. 

For further reading: 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Why is social-emotional learning important for children’s development?

Social-emotional learning is crucial for children’s development as it helps them acquire and apply essential skills like self-awareness, empathy, communication, and emotional regulation. These skills contribute to their overall well-being, academic success, and positive relationships with others.

How can reading books help teach social-emotional skills?

Reading books is an effective way to teach social-emotional skills because stories provide a platform for children to explore different emotions, perspectives, and social situations. Through reading, children can empathize with characters and learn valuable lessons about empathy, resilience, and problem-solving.

What are some recommended books that promote social-emotional learning?

There are numerous books that promote social-emotional learning. Some popular examples include:

Teaching social-emotional learning (SEL) through reading involves selecting books that feature diverse characters and themes, enabling children to empathize and understand various emotions, perspectives, and experiences. Engage children in discussions about the characters’ feelings and behaviors, connecting these insights to their own emotions and social interactions, fostering empathy and self-awareness. Use stories as a platform to explore SEL competencies like self-regulation, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making, encouraging reflection and guiding children in applying these lessons to their own lives.

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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A parent’s guide to cultivating empathy in children by nurturing compassionate connections—here’s what you should know about developing empathy in children. 


You’re here because you find yourself grappling with a question like this:

“My child does not seem to understand when they hurt others’ feelings. How can I help them develop their capacity for empathy?”

It’s not uncommon for children to struggle with empathy at certain stages of development. Your proactive approach to addressing this issue is commendable, so you’re on the right track just by reading this article. Empathy is a complex ability that develops over time, and I’m here to provide you with guidance and practical strategies to support your child’s journey toward empathy.

Here’s what parents need to know about developing empathy in children.

What Is Empathy, And Why Does It Matter?

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. It holds immense significance in fostering happiness, meaningful social relationships, and social skills. Parents play a key role by recognizing its value and actively nurturing empathy and empathic responses. 

When Should Children Exhibit Empathy?

There is no specific age at which a child should have empathy (as I’m sure you already know, even adults can struggle with empathy!) Like most skills and abilities, advanced levels of empathy develop throughout childhood and teenage years. In fact, empathic responses are intricately linked to a child’s emotional and cognitive development.

Children will eventually develop what’s called theory of mind—a crucial cognitive milestone and building block in the development of empathy. Theory of mind refers to the ability to understand and attribute mental states, such as beliefs, desires, intentions, and emotions, to oneself and others. It involves recognizing that individuals have their own thoughts and perspectives which may differ from one’s own.

Children develop theory of mind gradually over the course of their early childhood years. Different children may develop theory of mind at different rates, and individual differences can occur.

Factors such as cultural influences, language development, and social experiences can also impact the progression of theory of mind. With that in mind, here are some general milestones most parents can expect to see as their children develop theory of mind and gain empathy.

Stage 1: Infancy (0-12 months)

During this stage, infants start developing awareness of their own mental states and begin to differentiate between self and others. They may display basic forms of empathy, such as imitating facial expressions.

Stage 2: Toddlerhood (1-3 years)

Children then begin to recognize that others have different perspectives and knowledge. They may engage in “joint attention” by following someone’s gaze or pointing to share an object of interest. They also start using basic mental state language, like saying “I know” or “I don’t know.”

Stage 3: Preschool Age (3-5 years)

Children become more skilled at understanding others’ thoughts and feelings. They can engage in pretend play, taking on different roles and understanding that characters in stories have different perspectives. They also develop a basic understanding of false beliefs, recognizing that someone can have an incorrect belief about a situation.

Stage 4: School Age (5-7 years)

At this stage, children’s theory of mind continues to develop further. They become more adept at understanding and predicting others’ behaviors based on their mental states. They understand that people can have hidden thoughts, make inferences about others’ feelings, and become more skilled in perspective-taking.

How Can I Develop My Child’s Cognitive Empathy?

Throughout childhood, two crucial building blocks for empathy are emotional awareness and perspective-taking.

Emotional awareness

Emotional awareness refers to the ability to correctly identify one’s own and others’ emotions. Moreover, emotional awareness is crucial for emotional regulation. You can promote emotional awareness in children (and in yourself!) by frequently using more varied emotion words.

Parents tend to use the same three emotion words when speaking with children: happy, sad, and angry. Try to expand your child’s vocabulary as a role model by using more specific words to describe positive and negative emotions, like:

  • Excited
  • Delighted
  • Surprised
  • Disappointed (one of my favorites)
  • Defeated
  • Frustrated
  • Impatient
  • Bored
  • Lonely

You can use these words to describe your child’s emotions, your own, and the emotions of peers and characters in books and movies.

Although there are many helpful and educational materials dedicated to this subject, nothing can replace parent modeling (teaching by doing).


Perspective-taking refers to the ability to put oneself in somebody else’s shoes and see the situation from their standpoint.

You can promote perspective-taking in your child in several ways.

1- Considering Feelings 

Ask open-ended questions that invite your child to speculate about what others might be feeling or thinking based on language and body language. Encourage them to seek confirmation by engaging in dialogue or actively listening to other’s perspectives.

2- Gift Giving

Children can also learn perspective-taking (and empathy) through gift-giving. Whether for birthdays or the holidays, encourage your child to participate in choosing, buying, preparing, or wrapping gifts for someone else.

Encourage them to think about what another person would like to receive based on their interests/preferences. Discuss with your child how they think someone might feel when they receive a gift they want versus one they did not want.

3- Volunteering

Volunteering can also teach kids about empathy and compassion, as it can help build tolerance (through exposure to diverse individuals) and a greater sense of being connected to one’s community.

Recognizing When to Seek Help: Child Psychotherapy Services

As a parent, you play a vital role in supporting your child’s growth, including how they develop empathy. If you find yourself in need of additional guidance or specialized support, I encourage you to reach out for a consultation with Dr. Leon.

Dr. Leon can help provide the necessary tools and strategies to nurture your child’s social-emotional well-being and ensure they thrive in their relationships and interactions with others. If your child struggles with negative feelings, aggressive behavior, or empathy skills, then Dr. Leon can help. 

Take the first step and schedule a consultation today to give your child the best opportunity for a bright and empathetic future.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What age is appropriate to start teaching empathy to children? 

Empathy development begins in infancy, but it is an ongoing process that continues through childhood and adolescence. While there is no specific age to start teaching empathy, parents can begin introducing age-appropriate concepts and activities as early as toddlerhood. Simple gestures like labeling emotions and encouraging sharing can lay the groundwork for empathy at a young age.

What are some common challenges parents may encounter while trying to develop empathy in their children?

Some common challenges parents may face when fostering empathy in children include resistance or lack of interest and navigating conflicts with peers. 

To overcome these challenges, parents can:

  • Provide consistent guidance and reinforcement
  • Create a safe and empathetic environment at home
  • Encourage open communication
  • Offer alternative perspectives to broaden their child’s understanding

You can promote empathy in your children by modeling empathetic behavior, demonstrating kindness and understanding in your interactions. You should encourage perspective-taking and teach children to recognize emotions in others by discussing feelings and perspectives in different situations, fostering understanding and compassion. Finally, engaging in activities that promote empathy, such as volunteering, reading books with diverse characters and themes, and encouraging open discussions about emotions and different points of view is also important.

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.

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