Raising children is a very anxiety provoking experience.
We give birth to innocent, little babies and we vow to protect them and make them happy forever. After we become accustomed to our new lifestyle of waking up again and again, and all of the glories of that first year of life, parenting feels do-able. We realize that we can take care of our little ones, anticipate, and keep them comfortable and happily by making silly faces, making spontaneous stops for ice cream, and going to the park.
But then, it gets a little more complicated.
I’m not saying that if you’re an anxious parent that your anxiety was manageable throughout these phases. It peaks and wanes, and you get through it, whatever it is.
I’m an anxious person. I was an anxious child, teenager, young adult and now parent. I worry. I worry a lot, about everything. So was I surprised that I have two anxious children? Well, yes, because I hoped that I would somehow not pass on that anxious gene. But then I began to assess my actions, my words, my interpretations of situations, interactions between friends – and I realized that I was passing on anxious information, even appearing anxious.
As an anxious parent, we have certain ideas about ourselves and our children, our parenting, what our family life should look like, and we try to stick with those ideas even when they don’t work. Let me review a couple of premises that I know to be true for us anxious parents:
- We are absolute, all or nothing thinkers
- We are not comfortable in situations that we deem to be ‘dangerous’ or uncertain
- We reassure, rescue and over-protect our children
- We feel scared, probably more than our children, in new situations
- We are perfectionistic
- We tend to be negative thinkers and assume the worst
- We have low expectations that our child will be able to handle a new situation
- Without intending to do so, we have anxious facial expressions and body language
Does any of this ring true for you?
We have strong ideas about parenting. We want to do it ‘right,’ and when things aren’t going as we think they should, we think we are failures or that we did something ‘wrong.’ When we are scared, we become rigid and controlling. We may even have our own meltdown because we can’t control the situation, and we can’t make the outcome we want to happen.
What does that look like regarding parenting?
- We discourage our children (not intentionally) from making their choices, especially if we think that the outcome may not be positive. After all, we don’t want our child to fail and be unhappy.
- We do things for our children so that it’s done ‘right’
- We push too hard or not at all
- We stifle decision making and independence (physical and psychological)
- We avoid situations that are too difficult, too scary, or uncertain
Non-Anxious Parenting Strategies:
It’s important for you to know when you’re anxiety is being triggered and how you are assessing a situation or upcoming event. Discuss with your non-anxious spouse, friend or therapist. Don’t resist your anxiety, but rather acknowledge it and process it.
Set Comfortable Parameters for Your Anxiety
Are you anxious about being invited to a Mommy Playgroup? Are you afraid you won’t know the moms? May they judge you? You’re afraid your child will do something ‘horrible?’
These are normal feelings. In fact, most people may be anxious about joining a new playgroup and meeting new people. Acknowledge that you are nervous and the reasons that you are feeling so. Next, set parameters. That is, join the group instead of avoiding, but instead of 2 hours, join for 1. Set it up with the host that you will have to leave at a certain time. If you find that you’re having a great time, you can say that your appointment was canceled and you can stay longer.
It’s Okay if You or Your Child Are Scared or Uncomfortable
Let this be your mantra. Anxiety is a beneficial emotion. It helps us to assess and go if there is a true danger. However, when you are an anxious person, your ability to differentiate is not as strong, and your response to situations (big or small) is the same – intense and loud!
It’s okay for you to feel anxious, or if your child feels anxious. Take a few deep breaths, and move forward, one foot in front of the other. Assess the situation or event after it’s over. Was it that bad? Is it possible that you were assuming the worst and it didn’t happen? It’s important to emotionally process before and after an anxiety-provoking situation for you and your child.
Encourage Brainstorming and Problem-Solving – Don’t try to Fix It
For you and your child, if you’re anxious about the Mommy Playgroup, you are problem-solving by finding another solution instead of avoiding the group altogether. Build your and your child’s cognitive flexibility by becoming aware that there can be multiple solutions to a situation or problem. For example, if your child has a meltdown because his lego creation was accidentally kicked by the dog or his sibling, take a deep breath and instead of fixing it for him, ask him, “what can we do?”
Encourage him to think about ways in which the situation can be handled. You can offer a potential solution: “I wonder if I could help you re-build it?” By modeling problem solving for your child, problems don’t have to trigger tears and hopelessness.
For your older child, who may have forgotten her spelling words in her desk and is now turning into a puddle on your kitchen floor, ask, “I wonder if there is another way to get that list of words? Do you have any ideas?” Encourage your child to think about the name of another child in her class.
Parenting in and of itself is one of the most difficult jobs I have ever had. Parenting as an anxious parent makes this job even more challenging. By staying aware of your anxiety and its triggers and absoluteness, you will be okay.
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Dr. Liz Matheis is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist
who specializes in assisting children and their families with Autism, ADHD, Anxiety and learning/behavioral disorders in Parsippany NJ. Dr. Liz was trained at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison and Teaneck, where she earned her BA in Psychology, MA and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.
In her private practice, she has 4 therapists who provide after school and evening hours. Stephanie Fredericka, LCSW, Nicole Filiberti, LSW, Michelle Molle-Krowiak, Ed.S., LCSW & Chrissy Sunberg, M.Ed., AAC are a welcomed addition and provide specialization in CBT, Art & Play Therapy, Grieving, Trauma, In Home ADHD Coaching, and use of the Sand Tray Therapeutic Technique.
Dr. Liz focuses on well-aligned parenting styles via parent coaching, helping parents who are divorcing or divorced to maintain a co-parenting relationship, creating a consistent home environment, and the establishment of boundaries and behavioral expectations in helping children and families to realize their fullest potential. She also serves as an Educational Consultant to parents who are seeking to optimize their child’s IEP, and need support and advocacy to maximize their child’s special education program and related services. As a former School Psychologist on the Child Study Team, Dr. Liz also provides psycho-educational evaluations that are Child Study Team friendly.
At present, she is a contributor to a number of popular press magazines, radio and blogs, where she is able to provide real-world, pragmatic solutions to complex problems. To learn more, visit www.psychedconsult.com or email at [email protected].
The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.
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