Everyone agrees that parenting is hard, but before you become a parent, you don’t fully understand the daunting task that parenting really is. Children need to come with warning labels! It isn’t just the changing diapers or sleepless nights that are challenging. EVERYTHING that comes with being responsible for raising another human is difficult.
Whether or not you had anxiety or stress before you became a parent, there is a chance that parenting creates new stress and anxiety in your life. Every day, there are new challenges; each age brings new behaviors and needs. Of course, there are wonderful and rewarding moments when you are a parent. It is not all stressful. But when that stress happens, it can often be overwhelming.
For some, once you are stressed or feeling anxious about your parenting or about how your children are doing, it is difficult to control those feelings. Stress and anxiety can cause you to become tired and angry, which you then inadvertently take out on your children and family. That in turn can make your child anxious and more stressed, leading to a cycle where your stress passes on to your child, which in turn can upset you even more.
We all want our children to learn from us, but do not want our children to pick up our anxieties and stresses. Some stress and anxiety will be inevitable on your part, but the key is to try your best to prevent it from passing on to your children.
Here are some tips for managing your own anxiety and stress:
Model appropriate behaviors. Your kids look up to you and are paying attention to everything you do (even if you think they aren’t!). When you feel stressed and anxious, it is important to “play it cool” so you do not pass the stress on to your kids. If your children sense that you are nervous, they can sense it and internalize those feelings. This is especially important when the stress is related to the children, such as a test, sporting event, or something frightening, but also matters when you are anxious about your own events.
- Practice breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, grounding exercises, or other calming techniques before events. Doing this together is also a great bonding experience.
- Use rational thinking. If your child is scared, which in turn upsets you, remind them to think rationally. “It has thundered many times before. It hasn’t hurt you before, right? So, it won’t hurt you now."
- You also need to model behaviors with your words. Although you may worry constantly about your children’s well-being, try and use positive phrases, rather than negative ones. Instead of focusing on what they can’t do, focus on what they CAN do. For example, say, “walk nicely instead of running,” rather than, “don’t run: you will fall.”
Remember your role. It is normal to feel disappointed when your child has a setback or does not reach their goal. Remember that your child may also be upset, and they are looking to you for support and comfort. Your job is to love them unconditionally, help them understand what went wrong, make them feel safe, and encourage them to try again. If their setback makes you anxious or stressed, give yourself time when you are alone to feel your own disappointment, and then put on a smile and supportive face. Find positive explanations for why things did not go as your child hoped, come up with strategies for next time, and encourage them to try again.
Be honest with your child. You know your child best and how they may handle certain situations. While you do not want your child to worry about every little thing that is causing you anxiety, sometimes it is OK to explain things to them, especially when they have seen your reactions. If you got upset at your child, explain why it happened. Tell them you got angry because you were stressed and what the reason was, i.e. the house was messy or you were tired. Explain to them it was not their fault, but you had a lot on your mind, and felt overwhelmed. You can talk together about what you could have done differently instead of yelling. It will be a great learning experience for the both of you.
Delegate! Sometimes the best thing you can do is take a break and let someone else handle things for you. If a certain activity or situation causes you extreme anxiety or stress, ask someone else to handle it for you. Do sporting events make you incredibly nervous? Have your spouse or a friend take your child to the games, and maybe only attend one or two of them. Does math homework cause fights with your child? Hire a tutor rather than helping them yourself. Removing yourself from the stressful situation is a perfect way to avoid passing anxiety on to your child. Know that it is okay to not be everywhere all the time.
Find a support system. You deserve to be supported and it is important to have people to talk about how you are feeling. Talking about your concerns allows for validation and an appropriate outlet so that you do not vent your frustrations to your children. Your support system can be friends, family, or a professional – anyone you are comfortable with and who can help you cope with your feelings in a positive way.
Do not blame yourself. Most importantly, if your child does seem anxious or worried, do not blame yourself. This will only cause more anxiety, and it is important to know that just by reading this, you are trying. You are doing the best you can at a difficult job: parenting. Take time each day to understand what you are doing, and know you are doing the best you can at any given moment. Relax, slow down, and remember to breathe.
We understand that these tips are easier said than done, especially when you are feeling anxious and stressed. It is always okay to ask for help, and to take a break when you need one. If you need support, and want to talk to someone, you can call our Therapy Referral Services at 410-938-5000, and we will connect you with the right service.