I have a confession to make. I sliced my daughter’s grapes way past toddlerhood. I hovered over my fearless child, as she climbed the monkey bars. I never allowed popcorn or peanuts to touch my young child’s lips. She was never out of my eyesight, even for a minute. To put it simply, I was an anxious mom.
Being an anxious mom was easy for me. I had been an anxious child. I had been an anxious teen. It seemed only natural that I would be an anxious mom. But now I not only had myself to worry about. I had a small, bundle of love to protect.
Unfortunately, the deck was stacked against my little person. Anxiety was in her genes. It was looming in her DNA waiting to sprout. It was a genetic ticking time bomb.
Was my anxious parenting helping? Was I doing more harm than good by hovering, waiting for the next catastrophe to happen? Probably.
It occurred to me very early on that I needed to reign in my natural inclination to excessively warn her about risks and dangers. I needed to reign in my knee-jerk reaction to gasp when she fell or to hover too closely when she went beyond my own comfort zone.
I knew I couldn’t do anything to alter her genetic pre-disposition to anxiety. But I could control how she viewed her world. I had a choice. I could flood her with worries or arm her with skills. I chose the latter.
I know I am not alone. Many anxious parents struggle to keep their own anxieties in check while trying to give their children a better, worry-free life.
As a child therapist, I knew I had to do better. I knew I had to parent in a less anxious way. I actively worked on it. It took time. It took tons of restraint. But change started to happen. By the time my second and third child came into the world, they were fortunate to experience a much calmer, more relaxed mom.
If you are struggling with your anxiety, I feel your pain and I want to help. Here are some tips to prevent your anxiety from oozing into your parenting:
#1. Watch your reactions around your children.
When kids fall, they look to us to gauge the seriousness of the injury. We are their anchor. Our reactions set into motion their reactions. When we gasp or overreact with our own anxiety, their fears grow.
I have had to muffle many gasps in the last thirteen years. I have had to muster up the words “You’re okay,” all the while secretly making sure my statement was really true.
Be kind to yourself. It isn’t easy to always control those reactions. In time, though, it will become more natural.
#2. Be aware of your own irrational worries and do not verbalize them to your children.
Our comments and observations paint our children’s perceptions of the world. As anxious parents, we have to be aware of what we are saying out loud. Anxious young minds will file what we say and incorporate it into their own worries.
Try to filter what you say in front of your children. Ask yourself, is this a rational worry that I really want to instill in my child’s little mind?
Instead of saying things like, “Watch out! You’re going to fall!” You can say something like, “Hold the bars as you climb.”
How we say things can shape our child’s level of fear.
Early on I was guilty of saying things like, “Get that out of your mouth, you might choke!” And “Chew better! You might choke!” I realized (with the help of my rational husband) that I was putting my own choking anxiety in how I parented. I had to purposely bite my tongue when I had my reflexive worries. I had to calmly remove objects that were choking hazards from my children’s mouths. I reframed how I spoke with sentences like, “We don’t put small things in our mouths.”
#3. If you have to take precautions to ease your own anxiety, do so without your children knowing.
Anxiety is insidious and no matter how hard you work on your anxiety, it will pop up from time to time. If you need to take steps to reduce your level of anxiety, do it without highlighting it for your children.
Do you have to double and triple check your children at night as they sleep? Don’t tell your child things like, “Don’t worry, I check on you when you sleep to make sure you are okay.” Although this can seem like a reassuring thing to tell children, it inadvertently sends the message that they are potentially not safe when they sleep.
You want to hear a confession. I sometimes cut my seven-year old’s hot dog lengthwise. You know, that choking anxiety is such a beast! I don’t make it a big deal and my son doesn’t notice, but it makes me feel better.
#4. Have a non-anxious friend or partner tell you if your parenting worries are irrational.
It is really helpful if you have someone loving in your life that gets you and your anxiety. If you aren’t sure if you are overreacting, ask them. Sometimes getting a rational perspective can put your anxiety in check.
My husband has been a wonderful gauge for my parental anxiety. He has offered silent stares and quiet reassurance that lets me know when I might be going a bit overboard.
#5. Get help for your own anxiety.
Last, but definitely not least, get some help for your own anxiety. If your anxiety is out of control, your parenting will feel like it as well. Surround yourself with supportive people. Take care of yourself, so you can effectively take care of your children. Seek a therapist, life coach or helpful book to develop your own skills. When you help yourself, you help your children too.
There is a silver lining. You can’t have rainbows without rain. I know anxiety can be so frustrating and parenting is no cake walk either. Add the two together and you can feel completely overwhelmed. In my therapy practice, anxious parents shine. Not because of their anxiety, but because of their ability to care and love so deeply. They shine because of their deep empathy and their commitment to raise kind hearted, considerate children. They shine because the sensitivity that holds them back, also makes them some of the best parents on earth. And really, who wouldn’t want that?
How about you?
What do you do to keep your parental anxiety in check? Leave a comment and share with us. Do you know someone who struggles to parent with anxiety? Share this article with them.
Natasha Daniels is a child therapist and author of Anxiety Sucks! A Teen Survival Guide and How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler. She is the creator of AnxiousToddlers.com and the parenting E-Course How to Teach Your Kids to Crush Anxiety. Her work has been featured on various sites including Huffington Post, Scary Mommy and The Mighty. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest or making parenting videos for Curious.com.
Thank you so much, Natasha for sharing your expertise with our readers! For more, check out Natasha’s excellent book, Anxiety Sucks! A Teen’s Survival Guide. I highly recommend it. I learned so much. The writing style is perfect for teens! Check it out!
Natasha and I swapped articles this week so check out mine on her excellent Anxious Toddlers site entitled, Gratitude and Compassion; Powerful Home Remedies for Anxiety.