Children and Anxiety
Is there a link between children and anxiety & worried parents?
Is it possible that our well intended parenting practices are causing anxiety in our children?
As parents we strive to protect our children and ensure that they are safe and happy. Yet we also want to give them the experiences they need to become strong confident adults.
Sometimes these two desires seem to be at odds with each other. It can be one of the toughest balancing acts of parenting.
You read in the paper and hear in the news of the latest child abduction, school bus crash, sexual abuse case, or accidental death and shake with fear at the possibility of that happening to your child. Some of these graphic incidents are played over and over on TV and can make you want to take your child and wrap them up in a soft blanket of protective cotton wool for the rest of their lives!
And yet, if we do that how will they ever be prepared to do all the things they need to do as adults?
Children Mirror Our Emotions
Children are like little mirrors and will pick up on our worry and anxiety and internalize it. By worrying too much we end up creating anxiety in our children. We are unconsciously sending our children the message that something is wrong, that there is danger around.
Some experts feel that this level of concern and worry in parents is creating a strong link between children and anxiety.
In our industrialized, high tech, affluent society we have the capability to learn about new risks and isolate ourselves from them to a level never experienced by humans before.
Yet is it realistic or even desirable to try to reduce your risk level to zero? Would that even be possible, and what type of life would that be?
We want our children to be safe but we also want our children to be confident and responsible.
Parenting, children and anxiety - It is a real balancing act!
It is not just stranger abductions that worry us but also car crashes, deadly infections, falls that result in permanent brain injury, fires, failing school, being bullied, sudden onset of a rare but fatal illness, exposure to chemicals, sexual molestation, train derailments, having no friends, etc etc.
There is truly no end to the things we can find to worry about happening if we set our minds to it!
And sadly some of these tragedies do at times happen to children.
For our own selves, as parents, we have chosen to err on the side of caution when making decisions regarding our children, but it is clearly a personal choice that each parent must make taking many factors into account.
You need to combine facts and emotion and gut feel to come up with the right mix for you and your family.
Once you have made a deliberate risk/reward assessment and are comfortable with your decision, this will usually lay to rest any anxiety you may feel.
But we all worry at times.
Of course, worrying itself does no good at all. It overwhelms and frightens you and those around you, including your child.
Children and Anxiety - 8 Steps You Should Take
What is more effective when you find yourself worried or anxious is to:
- define exactly what you are worried about
- evaluate the actual level of risk by researching or sometimes just through common sense.
- develop a plan of action (if nesessary) to reduce the risk - this can include skill building, more supervision, more practice, delaying until an older age etc
- weigh the potential harm you might incur by NOT engaging in specific activities due to undue fear or worry
- decide what activities you generally feel are reasonably ok for your child to engage in, ones where you feel the rewards or benefit clearly outweigh the risk involved
- forget about it! Try to stop second guessing yourself or wondering and worrying about the situation, unless you receive new relevant information that is significant.(see exception note about gut feel below though)
- provide your child with the skills or training they may need to be successful in this situation. This may involve demonstrating it to them, watching them practice the skill or in some cases just getting out there and doing it.
- trust your child and yourself to be competent enough to handle life.
If anxiety continues to torment you or your child, is negatively impacting the quality of your lives, and continues to be overwhelming, you may need to re-evaluate your risk tolerance. Or if appropriate you can always seek the help of a therapist or doctor.
What To Avoid Regarding Children and Anxiety
An activity to avoid when dealing with children and anxiety is replaying the worst possible scenario over and over in your mind.
If you have done all of the steps above including researching the actual risk and preparing your child with necessary skills this little tape in your head is serving no purpose at all.
And in fact, by playing this "disaster" and "catastrophe" tape over and over and over in your mind, you are actually reinforcing the idea that there is reason for fear. You are reinforcing a sense of unrealistic fear.
Instead, try playing the best possible scenario over and over in your mind. Some of the ways I have found to be effective to do this are through learning self hypnosis or using guided imagery meditation.
Anxiety and worry can be so paralyzing.
It's part of our jobs as parents to allow and encourage our children to live full lives, learn important skills and take some calculated chances and risks!
The level of risk that is appropriate is going to be different for each child, each parent and each situation, and is always based upon the goal of trying to set the child up for success by introducing them to the appropriate training, skill building, safety and support necessary.
Sometimes with our children we may choose to minimize risk by delaying activities until they are at an older age or to provide more supervision while they hone their developing skills.
If you find yourself continually worried about the level of independance you have given your child, re-assess the matter. Listen to your heart. It may be that your inner gut is telling you something, and that you need to ease your fears by becoming a little more protective or take more time building skills.
Having children and anxiety seem to naturally go together because we want what's best for them. Do what feels best for you, don't let anyone pressure you to do anything you don't feel comfortable with. Children have a long time to enjoy their childhood and don't need to become miniature adults.
Guided Imagery Meditation
Learn Self Hypnosis and Calm Your Worried Mind
Learn More about Children and Anxiety