Caring or Anxious Parent
It was a beautiful day of a summer. Jane got up a little late in the morning and was happy to catch up on some sleep, after all it was a very hectic week for her. She was looking forward to drop off her twin daughters for a play date. Kids were also waiting anxiously to go and play with their friends. They were repeatedly asking their mom when they are going to go. Every 10 minutes they were running to her and asking “is it time to go? How many more minutes? Should we get ready?”
Jane was happy to see her children excited about going to their friends, but all of sudden a panic attack rushed through her body and she felt fainted. Jane has been dealing with anxiety and panic attacks since her teen age. A moment ago she was happy and had plans for the day and now her mind was pondered by racing thoughts. She was now concerned about her children’s safety. Within few minutes she had worst-case scenarios in her mind. She then started asking questions to herself, if there is really anything to worry about, after all they are going to their friends whom they have known for few years now and they have been over their house many times, but her mind on the other hand kept asking her what if they fall, what if… And the list of uncertainty goes on.
She started noticing that her heart was racing, face was flushing and hands were trembling. She understood that her fear is real and she cannot allow her children to a play date, after all she is a loving and caring mother and who will care if not her?
Kids again came to ask her if it is time, but she was silent and kids noticed the change in their mother’s appearance. They knew something is wrong, but could not figure out what exactly happened to Mom. Jane was still silent and was not answering and kids were repeatedly asking when they are going to leave and see their friends, when all of sudden Jane shouted “No one is going anywhere”.
Kids kept asking “why” but she had no answers for them. They started crying and this made Jane angrier and kids got scared. Now Jane was crying, she was sorry she shouted on her kids for no reason. Kids were concerned about their mom and it was so unsettling for them. Kids were sad not only that they cannot see their friends, but also because of their mother. They don’t want to see her sad or crying and they got the message “It’s unsafe to go”.
Unfortunately Jane’s story is not only her story, but a story of many parents. A fear of what can happen to my child will always be a part of parenting and parents have all the reasons to keep their child in a safe bubble, but when it becomes pathological? Where is the fine boundary line? When parents start overprotecting their children? We don’t even realize many times that how we pass on our uncertainties, our anxieties to our children. What message we are giving to our children? Well, if they see on daily basis their parent is anxious most of the time, then it means it is unsafe.
Now imagine how a child who feels unsafe will interact with his/her peers at school. Many parents visit doctor’s office with a concern that their child does not have social skills, does not know how to make friends, does not enjoy gatherings and prefers to stay home. Similarly as adults children have their own anxieties, at time they have anxiety about their school performance, other times they are anxious about getting along with classmates, and on top of that parents pass their anxieties to them, which further exacerbates the situation. Children can experience anxiety and show it with their emotions or with physical complains, such as abdominal pain, feeling nauseated in certain situations, rise in body temperature, increase in heart rate etc…
Early recognition of these symptoms and helping children with the emotional distress can help them grow out of their anxieties and make them more confident, creative, and successful, whereas children with anxieties, insecurities develop low self-esteem, they feel failure, neglected and are not well accepted outside their house.
A mental health professional can help a parent and child to manage the stress and anxiety depending on the complexity and source of anxiety. It is very important to understand that when treating a child with anxiety, a big part of it is to treating the anxiety of the parent. It is crucial for parents and children to express their feelings and not to suppress the emotions. Parents want their children to be happy, safe, not sad or angry and in this struggle they end up sending a message to their children they should not express any bad feelings or emotions, which later causes obstacles in their life, when interacting with outside world.
Luckily there are many effective ways to deal with anxiousness such as you can try mindfulness exercises, progressive muscle relaxation exercises, get to know the situations, places or objects that cause or provoke anxiety or anxiousness and then gradually increasing the exposure.
When we are exposed to a feared situation for a long period of time, our brain eventually adapts to this pattern and we no longer feel the threat. Just imagine the situation of Jane who is afraid to let her children go to a play date; this can be approached with a step by step plan. Initially she may arrange a play date at their home, and when this is no longer causing any stress, she can then arrange a play date outside of her house and then eventually letting her children go for a play date.
Running away from the feared situation or stimuli does not remove the actual fear and creates negative reinforcement effect and causes anxiety to elevate. Whereas by creating a gradual exposure to a feared situation creates positive reinforcement and the fear diminishes and eventually disappears.