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How to Parent with Anxiety

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It is hard enough to deal with anxiety, but throw parenting in the mix and it can be a real challenge! Parenting in and of itself can be anxiety producing, but what if you already have anxiety issues? It is tricky to know how to deal with anxiety when you become a parent.

Many of us have learned how to deal with anxiety, but are derailed when we add the long list of parental worries!! Anxious parents can get overwhelmed with not only their own worries, but the long list of worries about their child. What if he chokes? What if he gets sick? What if he never makes any friends? What if he falls? The worries can go on and on.

So how do we parent without paralyzing our children with our fears? Here is a good place to start:

First step: Be an anchor not a tornado for your child by-

1). Keep your own emotions in check.

Anxiety has a strong genetic component, so there is a good possibility that your child has a predisposition for anxiety. With that being said, your child needs a stable parent to anchor them when they get overwhelmed. Unfortunately anxiety can make us very emotional and reactive. Try to take a calm, non-emotional approach to your child. When your child sees you react in fear or anger – their reaction will feed off of yours. Lower your voice and your tone when your child is scared, angry or overwhelmed. The calmer you are – the calmer they will be.

2). Express your worries out of ear shot of your child.

It is nice to show your child that you are human to, but you do not want to overload them with your worries. Be aware of where you are venting and keep it out of ear shot of your child. Children will often take on their parent's worries and you don’t want them to take on your stress. Do not assume they are not listening just because they are in the back seat of a car or seem consumed with a toy in another room.

3). Try to not place your own fears onto your child.

If you have not learned how to deal with anxiety this may be a challenge. Anxious parents are at a risk of putting their fears onto their child. Your reaction to various situations tells your child whether they are safe or not. If you are on a chair when a small bug crawls by, your child will probably get the message that bugs are dangerous. If you make your child wash their hands every few minutes because they “might get sick” you are conveying a message to your child that they need to constantly worry about germs. Your words create your child’s reality. Instead of telling your child, “be careful! You might choke!” - you can tell them, “chew your food better.” Instead of telling your child, “you might fall and crack your head open!” - you can say, “watch your step and hold onto that pole.” Although the underlying message is the same, you remove the fear from the message and from their reality.

4). Don’t be afraid to get help for yourself.

Many of us think we know how to deal with anxiety and can handle our own problems, but there is nothing wrong with getting some extra support once in a while. If you feel you are spending too much of your day worrying about the “what if’s” for you and your child, you might want to consider the benefit of a therapist. Even a few sessions with a therapist can arm you with coping mechanisms that can help reduce your anxiety.

Second step – Empower your child, do not feed their fears

1). Teach your child skills to express their feelings and fears.

Teach your child to express themselves. If your child can tell you how they are feeling, you will be able to teach them how to cope with those feelings. If you are not sure how to improve your child’s ability to express their feelings, you can check out my post - Teach Your Toddler to Express Feelings.

2). Do not hold your child back because you are afraid FOR them.

It is scary to watch your child balancing on top of a playground ladder or climbing with disregard up a rock wall. Instead of jumping in and preventing them from doing things that make your heart leap into your throat – try to take a step back and support them as they attempt to do it themselves.

3) Do not prevent your child from facing their fears.

It is hard to watch as your child struggles to talk to others or refuses to go in a dark room by themselves. When you rescue your child by always going into those dark rooms with them or by always speaking for them, you are not giving your child a chance to overcome their fears. Instead, give them the tools to work through their fears and to learn how to slowly adapt. You can read my post on How to Help Your Toddler Fight Their Fear of the Dark to get an idea on how to build your child’s skills.

4) Show your child how you overcame some of your own fears.

Let your child know that everyone has fears and worries. Validating your child’s fears will let them know you understand. You might say something like, “I don’t like the dark either, even though I know there is nothing there. I used to get very scared when I was little, but then I learned to just turn the lights on as soon as I go into a room.” Teaching your child coping mechanisms that you have learned can go along way in helping them overcome their own fears.

It is important to remember that anxiety is often genetically driven and anxious parenting alone cannot cause your child to develop anxiety. Having said that – many of us have children that already have a predisposition to anxiety and it is comforting to know that this type of parenting style can have a positive impact on how they handle anxiety in the future.

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