How Anxiety Affects Your Parenting and What To Do When You're AnxiousJun 23, 2022
I connected with two of my child therapist friends this past week, and I took the opportunity to ask them what they want parents to know right now. They both had similar answers but one rose to the top. As child therapists, they wish parents would relax and stop catastrophizing.
Phones are ringing off the hook for child therapists everywhere — my friends included. Parents are anxious and scared, and they are taking all that happens with their child and negatively spiraling into the worst-case scenario in their thoughts.
I saw this with a client of mine whose child was kicked out of preschool for hitting. She had so many thoughts and questions about what was wrong with her child, what needed to be done and fixed, and all of the issues that her daughter was going to have in school. All of these thoughts were making her anxious and afraid, which made her so ineffective as a parent.
Anxiety and fear do not lend well to parenting your best for many reasons. Here are my top four reasons why you don’t parent well when you are anxious and afraid:
- Your feelings of fear and anxiety become a filter that has your brain searching out — and sometimes making up — additional reasons to support your feeling afraid and anxious. Have you ever noticed that when you feel anxious, your brain starts to give you additional things to be anxious and worried about? Your brain wants to prove your thoughts true more than it wants you to feel better, so it will search and filter to give you more reasons why you should worry. This is why — if you are already in a state of fear or anxiety — your brain takes that incident with your child and catastrophizes it.
- Feelings are more contagious than a cold. When you are anxious and afraid, your kids pick up on how you feel and match those feelings.
- Your kids look to you to figure out how to think and feel about themselves. When you are thinking that something is wrong and there is a problem, your child will think that something is wrong with them and believe that what they’re going through is a problem. You’re also filtering for everything that is wrong, and you’re shutting yourself off from being open to any solutions.
- You can’t parent effectively when you are anxious and afraid. Think about what you actually DO as a parent when you are anxious. I know from my own and my client's experiences that the list is pretty consistent. Most parents are short-tempered and reactive, they’re more likely to yell or cry, and they’re focused on themselves and what is going on in their own brains. They’re not nice, they’re not present with their kids, and they’re not effective as a parent when they are anxious.
As I worked with my client whose daughter was kicked out of preschool, we started by addressing her catastrophizing the situation so she could shift out of anxiety and fear. Her daughter is a three-year-old, and it’s very common for three-year-old's to hit. At that age, most don’t know how to manage feelings of frustration and don’t know how to communicate what they are feeling yet. Her three-year-old hitting preschool classmates doesn’t mean that she will have issues throughout the years and into high school.
Once my client had shifted out of anxiety, she was able to be more effective. She reached out to her pediatrician and met with their behavioral specialist who confirmed that her daughter’s behavior was age-appropriate. I then worked with my client on strategies to work on with her daughter to help her daughter learn communication and emotional management skills.
Notice that my client had to shift out of anxiety and fear herself before she was able to be more effective to help her child. It’s like putting your oxygen mask on first before you can help others.
If you want to be most effective in helping your child, you have to deal with your own anxiety and fear first.
So next time you find your mind wanting to catastrophize the situation that is happening with your child and negatively spiraling into the worst-case scenario, I invite you to put your hand on your heart and take a deep breath.
Then ask yourself these questions:
- What if this wasn’t a problem?
- What if this was age-appropriate behavior?
- How can I best help my child right now?
Your brain will work to answer any question that you ask. So when you ask yourself a question, you reset your filter. Asking yourself different questions helps you to stop focusing on all of the reasons why you should be afraid, and start focusing on all the ways that you can best help your child.
If you feel anxious or helpless at times because your child is struggling and you don’t know what to do, one of the best ways that you can help your child is to sign up for my Parenting Through Anxiety workshop on June 28th. I teach about anxiety in a way that you’ve likely never heard before, and you will learn a simple tool to help take anxiety out of your parenting process so you can parent your best when your child needs you most. Live attendees will receive a Parenting Through Anxiety workbook. If you can’t make it, you can still sign up to receive the recording at melpeirce.com/anxietyworkshop.
If you’re really struggling, you can also reach out to me directly. I believe that parents should spend more time enjoying their kids than worrying about them, so I help you learn how to handle any parenting challenge. You can sign up for a no-cost, no-obligation parent call to tell me what you’re struggling with and learn how I can help. I also guarantee that you will leave with at least one tip or strategy that you start using immediately. Access my schedule here.
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