As you may remember from Part 1: Is your anxiety making your kid anxious?, kids can easily pick up on the anxiety that we are experiencing. It is your job as parent to understand what is triggering your fears, own them, and respond appropriately.
You can manage your anxiety so your children are less likely to catch it.
1. Keep calm
Consider your verbal and nonverbal communication to and in front of your child. They don’t need to know all your worries. Furthermore, be intentional about how you respond when your worry is triggered. What is your facial response? Is your voice calm? Does your demeanor change? Despite your anxiety, it is important to appear to be in control of your emotions.
2. Own your emotions
There are times when your children are going to see that you are worried. Own that the anxiety is yours and if appropriate, in an age appropriate way, explain why you are worried and what you are going to do to make it better or manage that feeling. Also, let them know that just because you are feeling nervous doesn’t mean that they have to feel nervous but it’s ok if they do. In addition, reassure them that you can handle your emotions.
3. Explore your own triggers
Many of the anxieties that our children trigger in us are really old fears and disappointments that we haven’t fully dealt with. When your daughter has trouble handling her emotions and lashes out at you, does it remind you of your relationship with your mother? If you are distanced from your mother, is your daughter’s lashing out generating fears that you are recreating your own distanced mother-daughter relationship with her? When your son says he hates school are you really fearful he is going to dropout of high school like your brother? Old fears are hard to shake. Putting those fears on your child is not only unfair to you both but also can create the very thing you are fearful will happen. Parent to the current situation not your past fears. If your past continually interferes in your parenting, it may be important to get a therapist to help you separate and manage the internal struggle.
4. Identify your fear
Your sixth grader comes home and tells you she has a boyfriend. You are a wreck and freaking out about it. Slow down… breathe… what exactly are you afraid of? You might worry that he will break her heart and she will be crushed. You might worry that she is moving too fast and will end up pregnant by 16. When your worry gets going, take a moment to identify what you are worried about. Are you jumping to the worst case scenario? Are your fears realistic given your child and the situation? Do you have all the information in order to really know where your concern is best placed? What do you need to do to get all the information you need?
5. Engage your support system
Call your friend who will let you know if you are going off the deep end or if your worries are warranted. Vent, complain, and cry but be sure to do it out of your child’s ear shot. Seek advice and comfort.
Now that you have taken responsibility for your feelings, identified your triggers and fears, and enlisted your support system, it’s time to strategize. Is this something that you have control over or something that you do not have control over? If you don’t have control over the situation you may need to ride out the anxiety or use coping skills to manage it. If you do have some control over the situation, it’s time to figure out the best first steps that you should take. Does your child need a tutor for their difficulty in history? Do you need to have a conversation about what exactly a “boyfriend” means in 6th grade? (spoiler: it’s less than you think) Talk to your child about your expectations and the best way to manage the situation at hand.
7. Be strength based
Worried parents can fall into a routine of nagging and pointing out problems that their child has or might encounter. Try to focus on the positives of a situation and the strengths that your child has in managing that situation. The more you believe in them and their abilities, the more likely they are to succeed.
8. Get Help
Intense parental anxiety interferes with parenting. The agitation that can build in your body can make it difficult to focus, stay calm and keep your patience. Many parents with intense anxiety find that sometimes it can boil over into a full rage. Moreover, it can make it difficult to connect and have the fulfilling relationship your child needs from you. Finally, it can make your child anxious, too. If you are struggling with anxiety, reach out to a therapist specializing in anxiety to help to you the other side.
Moreover, being in control of your own anxiety is not only empowering for yourself, but will help your child as well. We know that our kids are like detectives when it comes to reading our facial expressions, body language and words to gauge different situations. By creating a toolkit that you can use when you’re feeling anxious, you will be better equipped to meet the challenges that parenting can bring.
Do you need extra support managing your anxiety? Let us help
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Brave Minds Psychological Services helps children, teens and families overcome severe anxiety, stress, and painful experiences. We specialize in developing brave minded youth that can move forward despite fears and significant challenges.