Well before having a child, I struggled with anxiety. A therapist once jokingly referred to my general anxiety disorder as “organically grown” in that it was given to me through genetics. Becoming a parent intensified my organic anxiety and pushed me to discover dynamic parenting solutions that don’t come from a place of fear.
Worrying is our brain’s way of taking action against a perceived threat. Anxious thoughts actually believe they are doing something to prevent the thing they worry against – this is why excessive worrying can bring a modicum of relief at the moment, although in the long run, it causes a myriad of issues. We have to be proactive in our coping mechanisms and take charge of our anxiety toolkits to prepare for the onslaught of anxiety that parenting brings.
What Does Parenting From a Place of Fear Look Like?
As parents, our anxiety can have lasting effects on children whether it be through passing on anxious traits or straining the parent-child relationship. We must first identify ways that we rely on anxiety for our parenting before we can work to change those behaviors. Some ways this can show up in parenting styles are:
- Avoidance: This can take the form of shielding a child from a stressful event or leaving the moment an obstacle arises.
- Catastrophizing: Anxiety can cause us to jump to worst-case scenarios, skipping from possible to probable with nothing factual to support the leap.
- Controlling: Being overly vigilant or enforcing our will on outcomes we perceive as too dangerous takes away a child’s ability to problem-solve, and can keep them (and us) from learning important lessons.
- Comparison: Overly comparing a child to the milestone chart or putting stress on what is “normal” lowers our trust that they will grow at their own pace.
These things exacerbate a child’s feelings of inadequacy or incompetence, even though we mean to prevent harm. This begins a cycle of causing the exact problems we mean to avoid.
How to Take Control of Parental Anxiety
Thankfully, parenting from a place of anxiety doesn’t have to be our permanent state. Becoming aware of problematic behaviors is the first step to changing them.
Be Intentional About Your Parenting
Being proactive about which coping skills we fall back on will drastically improve our reactions to difficult situations. Locate the source of the anxiety and address it head-on, intentionally not engaging in avoidance behaviors that inevitably lead to adverse outcomes.
Ask yourself, What am I afraid of and why? Is there any proof that the fear will come to pass? Dig into the source of your anxiety and learn all you can about that subject. Use facts and information to inform your plan of attack. An anxiety I have been facing recently is which daycare to enroll in. My research has involved reading reviews and speaking to other parents in my area.
The goal here is to find relief in factual information. Finding the difference between fear versus fact is essential because anxiety’s greatest foe is knowledge. By arming yourself with proven facts, you create the strongest possible defense. Having a solid understanding of something you’re afraid of is also a powerful boost to self-confidence, which is key to accomplishing goals.
Find a way to strengthen your comprehension of the parenting style you want to implement so you feel more prepared in the moment. I do this by listening to audiobooks while I do chores. Some books I have found extremely helpful are Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide by Rebecca Eanes, and What Do You Say? by Ned Johnson and William Stixrud, PhD.
Think of it as Exposure Therapy
The term distress tolerance is often used in DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) for deliberately enduring stressful situations in order to raise your tolerance level. Use exposure to the cause of your anxiety to prove to yourself it is manageable.
Sometimes we just have to do the thing to prove to ourselves we can do it. Conquer your anxiety by completing the task and show yourself it wasn’t as bad as you feared. This method is proven to engage paramount brain functions, such as the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain involved with planning and complex cognitive behavior), and dampen fear-network activity.
Reduce Your Overall Stress
We cannot force children – or anyone at all, for that matter – to do something. Even if we are triumphant in the moment, it will not remove their desire or erase the feeling of loss of autonomy. The best course of action is to evaluate ourselves and make necessary adjustments. Reducing general daily stress allows us to summit the inexorable moments that arise with greater clarity.
- Practice Mindfulness: Mindful meditation is proven to reduce stress and anxiety. While it is recommended to complete two intervals of 20 minutes throughout the day, working meditation into your daily routine is more important than the length of time you sit.
- Have a Support System: You are certainly not alone. Many, if not all, parents experience parental anxiety at some point. Join a support group or an online community of other parents – don’t isolate yourself.
- Exercise: According to to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, regular exercise is an excellent foundation for maintaining mental fitness and reducing stress and fatigue. It also strengthens cognitive functions and enhances concentration, leaving us more prepared and capable to handle whatever arises.
- Journal About Your Fears: You all knew I would get to this one, right? Use the power of the written word to explore what’s real and what’s your anxiety; explore concrete solutions and brainstorm what those may look like. You may find that it’s an old anxiety that you need to address from within. Maybe the backyard is missing a link in the fence that can easily be replaced – or if you’re afraid of your child drowning in the pool, so plan to invest in swimming lessons. Ask yourself if your plan accounts for what is your responsibility and what is in your control.
- Stay in the present: When you are distracted by fear, ask yourself if it is a problem you have power over right now, or if it is a future that you can explore in your journal later on when you are more informed.
Do you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks while at the grocery store, driving, or at work? Contact an anxiety coach now.
Ways to Prevent Passing Anxiety Down
A child may be genetically predisposed to have an anxiety disorder if a parent does, but it can also be passed down through observed behaviors. Just like breaking free of parental anxiety, we are not powerless here.
- Teach Coping Skills: Prevent passing along anxious traits by providing them the tools to cope and navigate through anxious moments. There are some great activity books and workbooks about DBT skills for children, or you can pass on what you have found in your own quest.
- Boost Self-Confidence During Activities: Help them develop a courageous mindset by praising their progress (not only their accomplishments), offering constructive feedback in place of criticism, and providing tasks and activities they can master.
- Be a Role Model of Positive Self-Talk: Voice your pride in small feats or when you master something you have failed before.
- Be Open About Anxiety: Anxiety is a natural part of life. We want our kids to know that when it occurs, they are capable of managing it. There is nothing shameful in being fearful or worried about trying something new.
- Take a Mindful Parenting Pause: Pause for 10 seconds of mindful breathing, then say something positive to reinforce both your and your child’s confidence in the task at hand.
Being a parent living with anxiety is difficult, but it also makes us vigilant. When you know you are about to enter a situation that flares your fears and anxiety, remember your training. Use whatever technique best works for you, and breathe easier knowing that you are prepared to handle it.
I hope this information finds you well. Until next time, take care of yourself!