Karen Casey Coaching

5 Subtle Ways that Parents Create Anxiety Without Realizing It

Anxiety is not just an adult issue. Clinical research indicates that millions of children are dealing with anxiety. Recent numbers show up to 22.5 % of children worldwide suffer the effects of anxiety. Anxiety can be hard to pinpoint as kids can manifest anxiety in various ways depending on their age, type of anxiety, and language development.

Some kids may experience physical symptoms such as stomach aches, headaches, and racing heartbeats. Others may suffer extreme worrying or emotional responses such as tantrums. Our tween/teen kids can be as clingy or have tantrums as we might have experienced when they were toddlers. Even if we do not intend to, some behavior responses and words can add to a child’s anxiety.

Here are a few…

Shying Away from Talking About Feelings

Talking about feelings can be uncomfortable, especially when difficult or confusing emotions are experienced. It is so important for parents to encourage these hard conversations. Allow room for your child to feel nervous, worried, or anxious. This alone can be enough to lighten the experience of anxiety. Name the feeling that you observe they may be feeling. “You feel nervous about going to the overnight with your friends because I won’t be there” or “It looks like you are uncomfortable riding the bus to school.”
After naming the emotion, validate how they might be feeling. Saying something like, “I get it. That makes sense to me. Everyone is different. Sometimes people need a few minutes to do something they are anxious about, and others jump right in.” Try to brainstorm a solution with your child. Remind them that you will support and encourage them. Step away from trying to “fix” or solve the problem for them. I found even with teenage students that this same approach helped them to tackle a project they were avoiding or deal with a friendship problem.
Who doesn’t feel better when someone else shares a similar emotion or story about their own experience? Parents, don’t hesitate to share your own emotions with your child. I am not advocating dumping adult problems on a child. I am all in for sharing a story about a time when you were anxious or how you dealt with your feelings. It humanizes us with our children and also models ways to manage strong emotions.

Being Overly Cautious

A lot of time we can trigger anxiety in our children when we are overly cautious. If we are constantly telling them to be careful, we are constantly warning them about possible dangers. I have struggled with this as a parent and grandchildren. Just reading the news can trigger our anxieties about all that “could” happen to our children especially as they are in their tween/teen years. Try to pay attention to how many times you caution your children to avoid creating hesitancy about life. Saying “Be careful” while they are hiking with friends is completely appropriate. What I have learned is to approach conversations about being cautious with educational, reasoning messages. I wish I had learned this earlier as a parent but better late than never, right? Instead of “smoking will kill you” or “if you start smoking you will be grounded forever”, maybe a message of calm reason will better serve our kids. “Smoking has been linked to many health issues. My uncle died from lung cancer linked to smoking. I love you and want you to be healthy – please don’t start smoking.” While it may not stop your tween/teen from giving it a try, it could set the stage for not being interested in valuing their health.
Build their confidence in making wise decisions and intelligent judgments. Giving our kids tools to arrive at solutions and face challenges they meet goes much further than investing in scaring them with all the dangers of the world.

Refusing to Deal with Your Own Anxiety

Anxiety is a normal part of our lives, and we all need coping strategies for our emotions. One of the most important things we as parents and grandparents can do is to teach healthy ways to manage anxieties. Just as putting our oxygen mask on before we can help someone else, addressing our anxiety struggles helps us in personal growth and trickles down with healthier experiences with our children no matter what their age.
When our anxiety is not well-managed, and our kids have too much exposure to it, we can unintentionally teach them to be afraid or communicate that situations or scenarios are to be feared because we fear them. This can apply to our fear of almost anything – the things we can fear are a never-ending list of experiences, places, and people. When an anxiety-producing moment happens with your kids, let them know you are going to take a moment to breathe, calm yourself, or do some specific activity to manage and wait through your anxiety feelings. This models self-regulation and also informs your child of the nature of anxiety feelings. The anxiety response does not last, and we can wait them out to ease.

Praising Results Instead of Effort

We all know that our children are living in a world of demands, competition, and all sorts of messages through media that they are not enough. Everything we can do to offset these false messages is worth our time. In my many years working with teenagers in an academic setting, worry about disappointing their parents was often shared with me. Make no mistake…even if they don’t admit it to you, letting you down is a big deal and impacts their behavior.
Examine the expectations you place on your children. You may not think you do but the truth is that we all do. Are the expectations realistic? Pondering this may require some soul-searching and some honest self-talk.
Research has shown the benefits of focusing on effort rather than outcome. Whether a grade, game score or how many invites one receives from their college choices, effort over outcome removes a lot of harmful pressure and helps kids know they’re good enough, even if they don’t excel at everything.
Start praising the effort the child has put in ― ‘I saw you studying last night ― you are working hard on that project’ or, ‘You’ve been practicing every single night no matter what!” I will always encourage parents to make every effort to show acceptance, to let their teens know that they love and accept them no matter what. You may not be happy about a particular behavior or decision at the moment, but you still love and accept them as a person. That increases that sense of safety, which can help reduce their anxiety. It also keeps you as the parent in the “game” and helps to avoid your teen going elsewhere for affirmation.

Taking an Authoritarian Approach to Parenting

Stepping away from heavy-handed parenting does not mean being permissive. Striking a healthy balance is always a challenge for every parent. Child psychologists often point to four main parenting styles – neglectful, authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive – that influence how children grow and interact with others.
Authoritarian style parenting tends to cause anxiety. This occurs when there are too many rigid rules in the home. Using a diet of yelling, spanking, and constant grounding are often go-to strategies to correct behavior, but it does little to connect with our children with warmth and relationally. There is a time and place to use these strategies but wisely is the goal.
Kids in homes with authoritarian parents often feel unsafe making mistakes because their caregivers overreact and overcorrect. Thus, there’s much anxiety about doing everything just right. The outcome is rearing children to become perfectionistic to make their parents proud, avoid punishment, and establish their identity as “the good kid” no matter the situation. Faith-based parents can lean so heavily on rigidity that how a child perceives God is impacted in a negative and harmful way. The challenge is to find a healthy middle ground where our children also experience grace and understanding.

Looking for help to better support your child struggling with anxieties? Many resources are available! If you have questions or want to chat about how I can support you, send me a message or call to share resources that will help you and your tween/teen.

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