I recently published an article about ways to support a child with anxiety, but it is just as important to know what not to do.
As parents we want the best for our children, but mistakes and missteps are inevitable. When parenting children with anxiety (or without) there are some common mistakes that many of us make. Many of these mistakes are rooted in our culture and how we were parented ourselves.
If you’ve made any of these missteps yourself, don’t be hard on yourself. Instead, recognize that by reading and implementing the information that you find in this and other articles, you’re actively working on healing yourself and your family.
Common Mistakes When Parenting Anxious Kids
Dismissing child size issues as unimportant.
It can be exasperating when your toddler has a meltdown about how orange his carrots are, your daughter is avoiding school because her friends are fighting, or your teen is devastated about being teased for acne. As adults we can see that those are manageable problems. Instead of dismissing their importance, we can use our wisdom and perspective to help our child regulate their emotions and work through these child-size problems. This builds their ability to self-regulate and problem solve later in life.
Thinking of children as mini-adults.
Babies, children, and adolescents are still developing their social, emotional, and cognitive processes. However, we sometimes expect adult-level coping and logic from kids who literally aren’t capable of that. If you’re unsure of developmentally appropriate expectations consult a professional.
Having higher standards for kids than parents.
If we yell, have meltdowns, or slam doors when stressed, it’s unreasonable to expect our children not to do the same. If we use screens to help ourselves unwind, our children will learn to do the same. Rather than getting angry at them (or ourselves), we can practice compassion and acknowledge that we’re all doing our best to manage stress. If we’d like to make a change, the logical place to start is with ourselves so we can model new and healthy ways of coping, grounding, unwinding, etc.
Shaming, yelling, or being mean to win compliance.
Children experiencing anxiety will often exhibit behaviors that we don’t want. Shaming children for their behavior as a method of discipline is deeply ingrained in our culture. These tactics may work in the short term, but in the long term it damages your relationship and erodes your child’s mental health. Similar to using shame, being mean and yelling will probably get short term compliance at the cost of your relationship and your child’s mental health.
Thinking anxiety will go away on its own.
Many of us have family legacies of ignoring mental health problems. We know this isn’t an effective solution. Anxiety unaddressed will often fester and get worse. Anxiety is very treatable and responds well to care. There are plenty of home care strategies for children with anxiety, and if needed professional help.
Giving up on treating anxiety.
Each person is different and so are the root causes of their anxiety. Some children will respond well to more time in nature and meditation, others do best with therapy, while others may need natural treatment or even medication. There are many options available so don’t be discouraged if the first ones that you try don’t get results.
Correcting These Missteps Requires Self-Awareness From Parents
The mistakes above are usually learned behaviors. This is how many of us were parented and this is how parenting is often portrayed in the media. That means that these may be our instinctive reactions. In order to make changes, we need to build calm and self-awareness into our lives so we can respond from a mindful place rather than a reactive one.
When we make mistakes, it’s important to take steps to repair the conflict. Modeling this important relationship skill improves our relationships with our children and sets them up for healthier relationships in the future.
In order to avoid reactive parenting which can worsen anxiety, we need to be healthy and centered within ourselves.
Supporting Parents’ Mental Health And Stress Management
A healthy lifestyle builds a foundation of good mental health from which we can appropriately respond to stress and conflict as we parent. Unfortunately we parents often find ourselves with too much work, too little sleep, and not enough support. During these times, nutraceuticals can help bolster the body and nervous system.
To support parents’ mental health and stress management, it is often wise to start with a foundation of vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids, and probiotics. Targeted herbal support can be added to address specific symptoms.
It’s important to support our mental and physical health so that we can effectively parent, especially when we have a child struggling with anxiety. A healthy lifestyle is ideal, but when real life happens, supplements can often help keep us well until we can get back on track.
There are some common parenting mistakes that many of us make when parenting kids who are experiencing anxiety. These are often parenting techniques that we learned from our own families or from the media and may be deeply ingrained in us. In order to parent thoughtfully, we need to take care of our own mental health, especially if we’re struggling with common parental issues like overwork, fatigue, sleep deprivation, or anxiety.