You call out to your toddler who is scrambling up the jungle gym, “Be careful, honey! Watch out!”
He decides it is too scary to climb and decides to go to the sandbox instead.
You check your teen’s grades online and realize there is missing work, “Don’t you have math homework to do? Colleges look at these grades, you know!”
She makes excuses and says she’ll get it done, but the work doesn’t get turned in.
Your child sits on the bench during tonight’s basketball game, “I’m going to have a talk with your coach. You are a star player. It’s crazy that you didn’t play more.”
He starts giving you a hard time before practice, eventually, he doesn’t want to go at all.
We mean well. You really do.
As parents, we focus much of our time and attention on helping our children stay safe, healthy, successful and happy. It’s difficult to imagine such good intentions leading to anything other than good outcomes.
Unfortunately, kids catch on to more than our good intentions.
They start to realize that there are reasons to worry, things to fear, and times to panic. Without concrete strategies in place, these fears and worries can grow into something we never intended. Instead of just being “cautious” on the monkey bars, your child avoids them; instead of giving it their “best shot,” they give up instead of making a mistake.
Before you help your child manage these feelings of anxiety, understand your own anxiety first.
Take a Look at Your Own Anxiety
Maybe you grew up in an anxious home. If you struggle with anxiety, chances are your parents or grandparents did too. If you were surrounded by people who struggled with anxiety, you did not learn strategies and skills to manage your own anxiety.
Or maybe you would never have considered yourself an anxious person before you had kids, but now, you find yourself worrying about everything!
If you’re ready to work on your own anxiety, think through these questions:
- What things seem to “trigger” your worry/anxiety?
- What situations cause you to feel more anxious?
- How does your body physically respond to anxiety?
- What are some anxious words or phrases you frequently use?
- Is there anxiety in your family tree? How has this impacted your own anxiety?
- How do your respond when your child is struggling to learn a new task?
- How do you respond when your child makes a choice that may lead to failure (i.e. forgetting a homework assignment at home)?
Break the Cycle of Anxiety in Your Family
Once you’ve learned about your own anxiety, it’s time to start changing the pattern of anxiety in your home.
- Find Support: Continue to learn all you can about your own anxiety. Build a long list of coping and calming strategies. Ask a friend, therapist or parent coach for help and accountability as you learn how to manage worry and fear.
- Model calming and coping strategies: Let your kids know when you are using a coping skill, “I’m feeling a little bit nervous about that, I’m going to take a few deep breaths before I respond.”
- Use Empathy: Help your child identify times when they are feeling worried, nervous, anxious or scared. “You are feeling unsure about the birthday party” or “The pool seems a little overwhelming today.”
- Speak confidently: Send your kids messages of encouragement by talking about their strengths (even if it’s not their “strongest” quality) – problem-solving, perseverance, kindness, organization, observant…
- Be a work in progress: It’s OK to struggle as you work through your own anxiety. Let your kids in on a little bit of your process, “Wow, I really let my worry get the best of me! I’m going to watch you without yelling ‘be careful!’ this time.”
It’s Not Too Late
If you realize that your parenting may be impacting your child’s anxiety, don’t feel bad! It happens in a lot of families, you are not alone. Taking responsibility for your own feelings is a huge step towards changing the patterns in your home!
*Many children feel anxious even when their parents don’t struggle with anxiety. This post is specifically for parents who struggle with anxiety.