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How Can I Ease My Parental Anxiety?

By: Danielle Bertini, LPC

Let’s be honest, being a parent is scary. From abduction and abuse, their child’s friendships, school performance, online threats like bullying, instilling healthy habits, the list goes on and on. It’s natural for parents to worry! However, how much worry is too much worry? In many cases, anxiety paralyzes not just the parent, but also the child, making children fearful and repressing their development. 

Parental worry can limit children’s opportunities to engage in healthy activities, like playing outside or walking to school with friends. These sorts of restrictions prevent children from exploring the world, interacting with peers, and learning to take chances and risks, as well as learning from their mistakes. Newman (2015) offers some ideas on how over-anxious parents can manage some of their fear.

  • Accept that you are fearful.

As simple as it sounds, the first step here is to just acknowledge and accept that you have fear. As discussed earlier, it’ scary being a parent! So, accepting these feelings in an open and nonjudgmental way is important. 

  • Learn the real risks and facts.

The concern that your child will be abducted is valid, but also mostly unrealistic. Newman (2015) offers some statistics: “Of the 800,000+ missing children under the age of 18, only an estimated 115 children were the victims of ‘stereotypical’ kidnapping, that is by a total stranger or acquaintance.” Awareness is the one constant in protecting all children against exploitation and abduction, so provide your children with the knowledge they need to protect themselves. However, it is wise for parents to be vigilant when children are near things like swimming pools or lawn mowers, as those have much higher numbers of devastating accidents and deaths. 

  • Teaching your child healthy, effective ways to cope with anxiety without avoiding, can help both of you.

It can be helpful to teach your child the “steps” method when doing something that is scary to them. For example, if a child is scared of going down a slide, this might begin with them first watching other kids going down a slide, then climbing the steps of the slide, and then going down the slide with a parent first. You can do each step multiple times until your child is ready to move on to the next step. 

  • Try mindfulness exercises alongside your child.

What does mindfulness look like? This can be listening to any sounds you can hear for 30 seconds. Small, frequent doses of mindfulness can help both you and your child feel calm throughout the day, as it recenters your mind to the present moment.

  • Practice slow breathing when you need to reduce your physiological arousal.

This is another tool that you can show your child how to do, but that can also help you. You can use child-friendly methods, like imagining you are slowly and steadily blowing up a balloon or blowing a bubble and don’t want it to pop.

  • Work on eliminating the most likely or catastrophic risk to your child.

If you have a pool, you can make sure the pool area is fenced and has a self-closing gate. Sometimes anxious parents are so worried about everything that they get overwhelmed and don’t realize/prioritize taking care of the things that are the biggest risks.

  • Write bullet points of the pros and cons of parenting your child in an overprotective way.

This can help balance your thinking so that you consider what the risks are with being overprotective as well as the risks of being under-protective. 

  • Confront fears with reasonable action. 

If you are worried your child might have ADHD, take them for an assessment by a child psychologist. You can also consult with a pediatrician for a referral. Doing something reasonable and practical about your fears is better than compulsively worrying or repeatedly Googling “signs of ADHD.”

References

Newman, S. (2015, February 25). 8 tips to ease parental anxiety. Psychology Today. Retrieved November 3, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/singletons/201502/8-tips-ease-parental-anxiety. 

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