Look at the ads: a “relaxed” family mostly seems to live in a luxurious, light-filled home. They show laughing children and smiling parents rolling around on the grass or running around in wide open, but very safe, spaces.
But in reality, parenting is seldom so relaxed.
Children are vulnerable. So many things can go wrong! And children have so many things to get right. So do parents.
On top of that, resources are often limited. Everyone has to meet expectations. School schedules dominate. Things go wrong. Children worry. Parents fail.
But somewhere inside us, there is that beautiful, light-filled family room where the whole family can relax and play together. All we need to do is to create this atmosphere in the outside world.
Here are a few tips to cope with parental anxiety and create a relaxed family home
1. Anxious parents – anxious children
Anxiety disorder is more likely to develop in children with anxious parents. There may be a genetic component, but ‘teaching by example’ plays a huge part. Remember that your job is to lead.
The first step is working to overcome your own personal anxieties.
You can work on it yourself, you can join a group, or you can seek the help of a professional counselor.
Chances are, your anxiety has its roots in your own childhood.
2. What are you REALLY afraid of? Name your fear to conquer it!
Anxiety is at its worst when it is vague and yet everywhere around you. Like a fog wafting all over your mind.
When you feel yourself getting anxious about your child, ask yourself what you are really afraid of. What is the worst of your fears right now?
It may seem counter-intuitive to name your worst fear, but it is actually very helpful.
For one thing, you will see that your worst fear is unlikely to become reality. And for another thing, you get to be the one who names the fear. You are in charge.
3. Are you anxious about yourself? The good-enough parent
As a parent, you don’t have to be perfect. You only have to be ‘good enough’. That means that you do your best to fulfill the needs that your child expresses. Like most parents, you are already good enough. And so is your child. Now you can relax.
4. Life is for now
A lot of parental anxiety is not about today, but about the future. A vague, and vaguely threatening future, in which your children will do badly. Especially if you don’t introduce a lot of stress right now. Perform in school, stay strong, be popular… It’s a long list.
Sometimes, your anxiety is justified. There is need for urgent action.
But most of the time, it is not. Most of the time, life needs to be lived right now.
And, ironically, the more anxious you are now, the more it will impact your child later.
The best thing that you can give your children is your own ability to live in the moment. Childhood is not just preparation for life.
Luckily, if your children are very small, they will be able to teach you too…
Don’t add to your stress!
Observe your breath as it goes in and out of your body.Your breath keeps you alive. It keeps you in the present moment.
Best of all: you are really good at breathing.
As you breathe, slow down. Maybe you can relax a little bit.
6. Stay calm for your kids
Every time you manage to breathe slowly and stay calm, you show your kids that the crisis is manageable. And that you, the parent, will be able to manage it.
Focus on them, instead of on your own fears.
7. Accept mistakes – yours and theirs
A bad grade or not being selected for a sports team are temporary setbacks. Don’t make them into big disasters.
On the contrary, show your kids how to recover and come back. That way, you both learn and teach resilience.
8. Change what you can change, accept what you can’t control
By all means, take all the many small crises of family life as a challenge. Improve what can be improved. Fight if you have to.
But don’t waste your energy and emotions on things that are beyond your power.
9. And learn to distinguish the difference
And that is the most difficult lesson to learn. Especially if you are anxious. Your anxiety will impede your cognitive functions.
Breathe, take a step back, focus on your kids, and remind yourself that, like them, you are learning.
10. Celebrate your family
Life happens now. Your family is changing all the time.
Be aware of every little moment. Allow yourself to enjoy it.
You have the privilege to live with those wonderful young people. For a while, until they are grown up. Create little celebrations.
The best medicine for anxiety is happiness.