We often take it for granted that children will be okay, but what if they are not…
If children are so susceptible to their environment, then why would we think any differently about their mental state when around others who suffer from different mental issues? We often hear that children are resilient, but are we not expecting them to be so and often turn a blind eye to what is being expressed right in front of us?
Often those small niggling things like hiding behind their mothers when being surrounded by new people, or clinging to loved ones when walking in a new place such as the park are signs we should rather be investigating.
Parents living with anxiety often don’t realise the impact that this can have on their children. The fact is, anxiety can affect our children’s development and can also be passed on to them, both genetically and by example.
The good news though, is that this can be turned into a positive.
If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, or once you have realised that you are experiencing parental anxiety, then managing it in a healthy way can be an example to your children and equip them with the tools they need to manage stress in their own lives. Another happy by-product is that this can also strengthen your relationship with your children.
You may ask yourself what the signs of parental anxiety are:
Well, simply put, if you find yourself shielding or over-protecting your children, that is the first major indication. You need to be able to allow your children to have experiences and develop their own skill set in handling situations. If you shield them from too much, you are actively taking away their ability to learn and cope later in life.
Another indication is anxious talk and catastrophizing situations. If you are constantly finding the worst-case scenario, or constantly discussing your fears and concerns with people, then these fears will most likely rub off on your children. Often when you think you are having a private conversation, your children are listening and internalising all the anxiety.
If you are an anxious person or suffer from an anxiety disorder, then the chances are high that you are an anxious parent. This has a profound effect on how your children see and respond to the world and affects their emotional well-being, ability to focus, make or maintain friends, or even sleep at night. Not to mention the long-term effects into adulthood.
If you can relate to any of the above, then do not fear. No matter what age your children are, you can still teach them new life skills and behaviors to help them cope with life.
Here are a few techniques that you can use in order to turn this into the aforementioned positive:
By being mindful of your triggers and actively taking steps to manage your anxiety, you are not only improving your own life, but you are also teaching your children healthy ways to navigate this rough terrain. Note down what your triggers are and be open with your children (age appropriately) about it so that they can understand your reactions and what are you doing about them. Being aware of the problem equips everybody involved, and is the first step toward managing it.
–Identify and breathe
There are a few ways to respond when triggered which include identifying what you are feeling or counting to 10, which engages your rational thought process and decreases the intensity of the emotion. Taking deep breaths, using progressive muscle relaxation, or even using a mindfulness app. By being aware, you can also practice healthy reactions to situations instead of reacting emotionally and causing alarm, and sending the wrong messages.
–Get active mentally or physically
There are also great ways to increase your immunity towards these triggers. Regular exercise, meditation, journaling, planning ahead, being open, and talking about it.
Instead of making your children avoid situations that you are afraid of, make a plan for them to experience it for themselves and make up their own minds about it. If you are unable to take them swimming because you are afraid of water, or afraid that they may drown, then ask your partner or a friend to take them. If you have a fear of spiders that is irrational, you can employ the same technique and ask someone who is better equipped to take them out to learn more about them.
Even better is to overcome the fear yourself by using methods such as exposure therapy (exposing yourself in increments to the trigger that causes your anxiety), hypnosis, or by cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a tried and tested method for dealing with anxiety. This will have the added advantage of allowing your children to witness how these issues can be overcome and further equip them to live healthy and balanced lives.
Whichever method you choose, the important part is, to let them experience it for themselves.
Remember that you are not in this alone. Speak to other parents about your worries and concerns and form relationships where you can assist one another in creating the best possible solution.
Speak to the school so that they can also be aware and perhaps even put your mind at ease regarding some of your concerns, as well as provide feedback.
Engage with your partner so that you can work together in raising your children and provide an example that only benefits them in the long run.
Speak to your friends for moral support (but make sure you are in private so that you don’t alarm the children).
Speak to a professional. If you feel out of your depth, or perhaps there has already been much damage done because you did not realise what was happening in time, then it is worthwhile to seek professional assistance. There are many choices out there so try as many as you need until you find what works for you and your family.
In the end, remember to be gentle with yourself and accept yourself and your children for who you are. Remember that nothing is perfect but being anxious about it is only going to have a negative impact. Love yourself, love your children, and do your best!