Anxiety and depression haunt most families. We try to exorcise the demons with therapy, prayer, prescription drugs, physical activity … you name it. However, the numbers don’t lie. Things are getting worse, and our kids are suffering the fallout.
Anxiety is now the most common form of mental illness in the US, affecting 10% of young teens. That number swells to 30% by the age of eighteen, until we find upwards of 40% of adults suffering from anxiety.
Anxiety and depression often hang out together, and our technologically advanced, postmodern lifestyles (including our warped online realities and social media melodrama) only seem to be dragging our kids deeper into this mental/emotional hurricane.
Our kids are at risk, and we need to prepare them to survive the psychological rip currents that are pulling so many of them into the depths.
Moms and dads, when it comes to battling anxiety, I offer you two of the most powerful words in the parenting lexicon:
The Today Show once shared a video clip of a kid opening a present. I return to that dose of beauty because it makes my heart smile. Every. Single. Time. The toddler unwraps the terrible gift (a dark green fruit) and with genuine enthusiasm exclaims, “It’s an avocado! Thaaaaanks!”
Friends, watch that video, and you’ll see parenting done right.
One of the greatest gifts we can give our kids is a “thank you” attitude, but not for the reasons society demands.
Sure, saying, “Thanks!” is a customary norm of good manners. However, gratitude’s true benefits go much deeper, and instilling thankfulness in your children will bless them in more ways than you can imagine.
I once wrote about the benefits of a grateful heart. Among them …
-- Gratitude has the power to reframe your memories and experiences, and, therefore, the perception of your own life story.
--Practicing thankfulness creates a cyclical reality and can actually draw into your world more opportunities for gratitude; think of it as a blessings magnet.
--A “thank you” attitude reduces materialism and boosts self-satisfaction; it provides an escape from the rat race and desperate spiral of “not enough” and “not good enough” that sinks us all.
Why would any parent not try to develop such a life-giving skill set in their children?
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that saying “Thank you” cures anxiety. There are too many social, chemical, and biological considerations. However, a “Thank You” attitude does provide a powerful lifeline in a cynical, jaded world.
We don’t know to what extent anxiety is biological/chemical and how much is actually learned behavior, but too many kids learn anxious habits from us, their parents.
One family I work with is drowning in depression and anxiety. The grandmother (a dominant matriarch) religiously taught her children to express gratitude—“Always say, ‘Thank you!’” However, she never modeled for her kids a lifestyle of gratitude.
Saying, “Thanks!” and living in thanks are not the same, and her children were watching. They saw a woman who was never at rest, was unable to find peace and satisfaction in the moment, and was enslaved by the not-good-enough taskmaster of anxiety. And the anxious behaviors those kids learned are now being taught to their own children.
I’ve heard it said that anxiety and gratitude cannot exist in the same space. If that’s true, which one are you pouring into your kids?
The brain functions as a creature of habit, and habits of gratitude are vitamins that will strengthen your child’s immunity to depression and anxiety.
Again, I’m not suggesting a panacea (our best science can’t even offer that). However, one study found that although practicing gratitude doesn’t cure anxiety, a thankful attitude does directly affect depression … which allows more restful sleep … which indirectly decreases levels of anxiety.
We can teach children to be less anxious, but we often model behaviors and attitudes that actually encourage the development of anxiety (and I’m certainly guilty of this).
How often do your kids witness your complaints and snide comments? Maybe it’s traffic. A messy house. Politics (oh, good grief, don’t get me started). How you’re inconvenienced by others. The list goes on. I’ve even seen parents harping about some perceived outrage at Disney World. Disney World, for crying out loud! If you can afford the luxury of visiting The Happiest Place on Earth and still have the gall to complain that your drink doesn’t have enough ice to stay cold through the Fast Pass line, don’t be shocked when your child becomes crippled with anxiety.
In my thirty years of working with kids, one piece of parenting advice for raising happy, successful kids remains true: model gratitude every chance you get, even in the worst situations. Both you and your child will benefit from learning to look on the bright side of life.
Our children are watching us. Show them habits of a Thank You lifestyle (and they'll thank you for it).
Practicing the art of gratitude—finding peace, contentment, and joy even in life’s biggest messes—will provide some high ground for your kids amid the rising tide of anxiety.
(As always, THANK YOU for sharing this with the people in your world!)
Be sure to grab Bert's book, X-Plan Parenting: Become Your Child's Ally--a Guide to Raising Strong Kids in a Challenging World. Release Date: June 11, 2019 from Simon & Schuster - Howard Books.
(This originally appeared on www.BertFulks.com)