I get a lot of questions from
, and I also see many anxious parents in my practice. Anxiety is heritable, but, just like most other issues, it is impacted by both genes and environment. While you can't remove your anxiety-prone DNA from your child, you can ensure that your parenting style doesn't exacerbate any innate tendencies toward anxiety that your kid may have. Here are ten ways to practice being less anxious with your kids, and setting them u to view the world as an exciting, rather than a scary, place.
- Don't project your experiences onto them. This is so hard, since you love your kids so much and you want to save them from any difficulties you had growing up. But so many parents miss the mark on this, and unintentionally make their kids feel anxious and upset about things that weren't even on their radar. For example, a parent who used to be made fun of as a child and now suffers from social anxiety may say to her child on the first day of school, "If anyone is mean to you, go to the teacher right away." This child may not even have thought about this scenario, but now she certainly is, and while she may have worked it out on her own before this advice, now she is much more likely to go to the teacher for even a small interaction that doesn't go her way.
Don't describe situations as scary or anxiety-provoking unless your kid does. Certainly, teach your child all about emotions, and ensure that he has the vocabulary to express what he is feeling. But if you go outside with your child and a big dog barks loudly and she cries, don't automatically say, "Oh, that was so scary!" Parents do this with the best of intentions, to empathize with their kids, but that doesn't work well if you're actually giving voice to an emotion than is more negative than what the child was feeling. A better alternative is, "That was surprising, wasn't it?" And if the child answers that it was scary, then you can definitely say, "Yes, you were scared." This bring us to...
Find alternatives for anxiety-centered words and phrases. The way you speak impacts the way you think. Help your child, as well as yourself, by reframing emotions, thoughts, and experiences in a less danger-focused way. For extra points, reframe them in a way that focuses on your child's strengths or your faith in him. You'll be doing amateur cognitive-behavioral therapy. Some examples:
"Oh my God, that was so scary when you fell in the water!" --> "I liked how you tried to paddle before I got you!"
"Be careful, we are near the street!" --> "Please walk nicely on the sidewalk without running."
"You don't want to get sick, don't touch that"--> "Have fun playing!" (And just wash your kid's hands after playtime, without undue emphasis on germs and illness.)
"Remember, if anyone bullies you, tell me." --> "I love to hear about everything that happens at school."
"Don't climb that high! You could fall!" --> "Wow, you are a great climber! You are super high!"
And that goes for how you talk about yourself, too! Kids learn from watching and listening to you. Adults are fascinating, so if you act highly anxious about your own life, it doesn't matter if you act relaxed about theirs. Here's some replacements for you:
- "If I don't get some sleep I won't be able to function tomorrow." --> "Boy, I'm tired today, I'm looking forward to bedtime."
"That guy is driving like a lunatic! He's going to kill someone!" --> "That guy isn't driving well. He must not be paying attention."
"I can't believe my boss needs that by tomorrow, I can never get that done." --> "Mommy needs to do some extra work tonight!"
"Oh my God, we're out of cereal and I don't have time to get to the store." --> "Oh well, out of cereal! We'll have bagels tomorrow."
Focus on the positive. Anxious people often were raised in families where it was the norm to bond over negative events and misfortune. Try to avoid establishing this norm in your own household. The way to do this is to focus on the positive aspects of any given experience. These are just as easy to bond over, and just as interesting and fun to discuss, after you get the hang of it. Examples:
"I was on line at the grocery store for 15 minutes before someone finally told me the cash register didn't work. What a waste of my time." --> "On line at the grocery store, I checked Facebook and I saw my high school friend is pregnant! Want to see her sonogram picture?"
"Grandma is coming over, we better clean, this is a mess and we only have an hour." --> "Let's make everything look pretty for Grandma! You make her a card and I'll vacuum.""You're so dirty! What did you do to your dress?" --> "Wow, someone had fun painting today."Make more friends. Before having kids, making friends was much harder for me. I often felt self-conscious approaching people and assumed that they wouldn't necessarily want more friends than they already had. When we moved to a new state and had my oldest daughter, I was committed to having a social network for her, in case she was a shy child like I had been, who wouldn't easily approach others herself. I was also committed to becoming a social role-model for her, so she could see that making friends wasn't hard or scary. Let me tell you, I have approached probably hundreds of parents on playgrounds and child classes and random child events over the six years I've had kids, and I can count on one hand the times anyone seemed even remotely put off or irritated by me talking to them. And dozens of these people have turned into friends or at least playdate buddies. Best of all, my kids ALWAYS approach other children on the playground, despite the fact that they are fairly obviously wired to be anxious (e.g., the daycare lady told me that I have "Type A babies"). It is almost impossible to develop social anxiety if you view the world as a friendly place full of potential friends, and this is what your friend-making can teach your kids. (And don't worry if you're introverted; I am too. Playdates are 1.5 hours maximum, which most anyone can get through, and you can also join meetup groups for moms so it's less of a cold-approach scenario.)
"The traffic was awful, this commute is killing me." --> "I was thinking, I need audiobooks or podcasts to listen to in the car. Want to help me find ones that might be interesting?"
For very anxious people, these tips may be difficult to implement, but you ow it to yourself and your kids to try. And of course, therapy and medication are also effective ways to work on your anxiety, and there is no shame in either. On the contrary, I believe that working on your issues in any way you can makes you an admirable parent and person.
Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Is Living Proof That You Can Stop Being Anxious.
This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. Learn about Dr. Rodman's private practice here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.