According to research, the number of children dealing with anxiety has been climbing steadily over the past few decades; 25 percent of teens now experience diagnosable anxiety disorder.
It’s a harsh reality that young people these days are finding it harder to cope with themselves, their feelings, and the world around them.
Another harsh reality is this: parents and their parenting practices may be contributing to their children’s anxiety. The Washington Post gives these six examples:
1. Caring too much
“Our kids feed off our emotions and get more distressed when we’re distressed,” says writer Karen Banes. “When my daughter communicates her worries to me, only to have me start worrying too, it definitely makes things worse.”
Children need their parents to be sympathizing but strong, need them to be their emotional rock.
Parents have to be “the person who understands, supports and (if asked) advises, without ever showing that their problems make us feel anxious too.”
2. Advocating too hard
As parents your first instinct when children confide their problems to you is march into the school and resolve it yourself. This is terrible impulse.
“[It] tells your child two things: Firstly, [that] he can’t tell you something in confidence, and secondly you don’t have faith in him to fix his own problems.
“Your first priority should be to help them find a solution they can implement without your help, every time.”
3. Compensating for weakness
“One bad grade in math and we engage a tutor. One issue with a bully and we buy them a book about dealing with bullies. Unintentionally, though, we’re encouraging them to focus on the negative.”
We build confidence not by masking our weakness but by building on our strengths and emphasizing it above all else.
“Children can’t always avoid their weak areas, but by focusing on strengths we build self-efficacy and confidence,” Karen says.
“Next time you’re tempted to spend the weekend researching math tutors because your child is doing poorly in math, consider instead spending all weekend doing things he’s good at.”
4. Overplaying strengths
“Yes, I know I just said focus on strengths, and we totally should. Just not to the point that our expectations cause more anxiety.”
Pressure stems from high expectations, and high expectations cultivate anxiety, which is counterproductive to your children’s development.
“When you constantly tell people your son is on track for a top college, or your daughter is going to be an Olympic gymnast, you feel like you’re building them up, but eventually the positive affirmation turns to pressure. Compliment your kids when they excel, but don’t make their excellence a reason to expect even more from them.”
5. Having great values
“Don’t create a culture where your children are too anxious to come to you and admit they messed up, or are under pressure to mess up, because they fear you’ll judge them or their friends.”
6. Hiding your troubles
Parents are reluctant to let their children in on problems the family may be having, problems both husband and wife may be having, and so as a result they hide it from their kids.
“But they do know,” Karen insists. “They’re super perceptive. They just don’t know the whole story, so they blow it out of all proportion, especially if they’re already suffering from anxiety.”
Should we pile our own troubles on our child’s shoulders? She asks.
“No, but it doesn’t hurt to be honest about what our concerns are and, more importantly, what we’re doing about it. By sharing what makes us anxious and how we deal with it, we’re modelling practical ways to resolve anxiety.”
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