When a child sees her parent in an anxious state, it can produce a tremendous impact on her. Children depend on their parents for what to do in scary, sad, or uncomfortable circumstances. So if you are going through a tough time and you are unusually anxious consistently, your child will know that there are a lot of situations to be worried about. Psychologists believe that anxious parents pass their anxiety to their children probably because they have learned it, or you can blame their genetic makeup.
It’s depressing for us parents to think that no matter how much we want to protect our kids, we don’t notice that we are the reason for the stress that they might be in. But I’ve learned that we must not feel guilty about it. Anxiety is not something that we feel intentionally, and it’s not that easy to turn off as well. Having said that, transmitting anxiety from you to your child is not uncommon. So the best thing that we should do first and foremost is to find ways to prevent this as much as possible. We must manage our anxieties as much as we can so we can help our children learn to manage their own anxieties as well. “Kids need the steady strong presence of a parent who will stop them in their tracks, let them rant and rave, and still be standing there when the kid needs a hug,” says Erika Krull, MS.
Practice Stress Coping Strategies
It would be hard to convey calmness to your kid when you, yourself, are finding it hard to manage the turmoil in your life. Seeking help from a mental health expert is one of the best moves to make. This professional can walk you through some effective anxiety coping methods that are customized to produce positive outcomes. As you gradually learn these methods, you can then teach your child – who is obviously taking signs from your behavior – how to manage anxious or fearful situations. “One of the most important gifts a parent can give a child is their presence, validation, and security,” says Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
Practice What You Teach
When you’ve come to learn some techniques by heart, you can practice them and at the same time, sharing them with your child when she is feeling sad or nervous. For instance, if you’re doing some breathing or relaxation techniques while you’re stressed working on a deadline, let your child sit with you and ask her to do the exercises with you. Also, when you’re on the verge of having an anxiety or panic attack, try to maintain your composure in front of her while trying your best to manage your attack. You have to model patience and tolerance to your child. Be mindful of your facial expressions, your emotions, and the words that you speak out of your mouth. Children are great mind readers, especially since they’re very much connected emotionally to their parents.
Explain What, Why, And How
Though you have to generally protect your child from anxious outbursts, there can be times when it’s okay – and healthy – for her to witness how you well you manage your stress and anxiety once in a while. However, you’ll have to be ready with a sensible explanation. Tell her what just happened, why it happened, and how it happened.
“Validate your child’s feelings by acknowledging the fear. This lets him know that you are in his corner and that you are going to help him,” says Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.
When you shouted to the driver beside you earlier this morning, you might want to explain to your child what that was all about. Tell her that you were running late and the driver almost hit you, causing you to panic. That was panic working on you, which is why you flared up and shouted. However, you calmly closed your eyes and took a few breaths, and eventually, things mellowed down. Let her know that it was something out of temper, and the next thing you did was another way of expressing that outburst.
Keep Away From Inevitable Situations
If there are things or circumstances that cause you excessive stress, stress that you know you can’t manage, for the time being, perhaps you might want to avoid these situations so you can spare your child from unwanted anxiety herself. For example, if you’re not too eager to drop your child off to school because you get scared, paranoid, and nervous, then ask help from a neighbor or a co-parent to do it for you. Don’t let your child see the tightening of your jaw every time she gets out of that car, as she might think there’s something scary about getting dropped off to school.
On the whole, when you’re feeling anxious and your child is with you, try to take a moment. Remember the anxiety coping skills that you learned. Carry them with you at all times because you’ll surely be able to make use of them. Go on a walk, drink a cup of coffee, or get some fresh air. Tell yourself – and your child – that every anxious moment will come to pass, and things will be all right – because they will.