4 Tips For Parents Dealing With Anxiety

Help your child by learning to deal with your own anxious feelings

The onset of summer brings many new firsts - first time at day camp, first time being away from home at sleepaway camp, first day of swim class. Your children are more than likely going into new situations at camp or in classes and your routine is not nearly as “routine” as you would like it to be. Transitions are hard on many children, but they can also be a challenge for parents. As you are adapting to your schedule and your new routine, it is understandable to feel slightly overwhelmed.

Parents can get overwhelmed with not only their own worries, but the long list of worries about their child's safety. What if he cries at camp and wants to come home? What if he never makes any friends? What if he gets hurt? The worries can go on and on.

So how do we parent without paralyzing our children with our fears?

1. Keep your own emotions in check.

Anxiety has a strong genetic component, so there is a good possibility that your child has a predisposition to anxiety. With that being said, your child needs a stable parent to anchor them when they get overwhelmed. Unfortunately anxiety can make us very emotional and reactive. Try to take a calm, non-emotional approach to your child. When your child sees you react in fear or anger – their reaction will feed off of yours. Lower your voice and your tone when your child is scared, angry or overwhelmed. The calmer you are – the calmer they will be.

2. Express your worries out of ear shot of your child.

It is nice to show your child that you are human to, but you do not want to overload them with your worries. Be aware of where you are venting and keep it out of ear shot of your child. Children will often take on their parents worries and you don’t want them to take on your stress.

Do not assume they are not listening just because they are in the back seat of a car or seem consumed with a toy in another room.

3. Try to not place your own fears onto your child.

If you have not learned how to deal with anxiety this may be a challenge. Anxious parents are at a risk of putting their fears onto their child. Your reaction to various situations tells your child whether they are safe or not. If you are standing on a chair when a small bug crawls by, your child will probably get the message that bugs are dangerous. If you make your child wash their hands every few minutes because they “might get sick” you are conveying a message to your child that they need to constantly worry about germs. Your words create your child’s reality. Instead of telling your child, “be careful! You might choke!” -  you can tell them, “chew your food better.” Instead of telling your child, “you might fall and crack your head open!” - you can say, “watch your step and hold on to that pole.” Although the underlying message is the same, you remove the fear from the message and from their reality.

4. Don’t be afraid to get help for yourself.

Many of us think we know how to deal with anxiety and can handle our own problems, but there is nothing wrong with getting some extra support once in a while. If you feel you are spending too much of your day worrying about the “what if’s” for you and your child, you might want to consider the benefit of a therapist. Even a few sessions with a therapist can arm you with coping mechanisms that can help reduce your anxiety.

It is important to remember that anxiety is often genetically driven and anxious parenting alone cannot cause your child to develop anxiety. Having said that – many of us have children that already have a predisposition to anxiety. It is normal for transitions to temporarily increase anxiety levels. If you expect some bumps and use some of these approaches – summer can be a relaxing, enjoyable time!

Natasha Daniels, LCSW is a child therapist with a private practice in Chandler, Arizona. She writes about childhood anxiety and has a blog Anxioustoddlers.com. Her book How to Parent an Anxious Toddler is coming out in September, 2015. You can follow her through facebook at www.facebook.com/anxioustoddlers.

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