Somehow it seems appropriate to talk about anxiety as a hurricane potentially barrels toward us…
The world we live in is a stressful place. Watching TV or signing onto social media brings an immediate barrage of information, most of it negative. (unfortunately “fear sells”–but that is a whole other blog in itself). It is easy to be overwhelmed, especially for those of us with families. The following is focused on lessening parental anxiety as kids return to school, however the techniques discussed can be applied to many different situations.
As parents we worry about keeping our children safe. We have fertile imaginations and can get lost in “what-ifs.” Media accounts of school incidents have fed this fear in some families. It is not unusual to fear the start of school, when our kids spend most of the day in the care of others. Our own separation anxiety and fears can get in the way of letting our kids grow. It is of course important to protect our families but going overboard can increase stress and anxiety in our kids.
One way to lower everyone’s anxiety is through empowerment. Reminding your children (and yourself) that they are in control- not of other children or teachers–but of their own actions and reactions. They (we) may not be in control of what happens during the course of a day, but they are in control of their responses to it. We can help our kids develop inner resiliency through coaching–“I believe in you! I know you can handle the good and the bad.” Help make plans on how to deal with specific situations that might prove to be stressful.
Another tactic is to focus on building confidence and talking about successes. Don’t get caught up in over-generalizations (“school sucks”). Instead ask questions about specific parts of the day and find the positive moments. Acknowledge that while there can stressful and negative parts of the day, those moments do not have to overshadow the good times.
The step method is another excellent skill for both adults and children to master in dealing with anxiety. If there is a situation that inspires fear develop a series of steps that address the situation. Start with steps that cause minimal anxiety and build until the anxiety provoking activity is conquered.
Unfortunately, parental anxiety can limit a child’s opportunities to explore the world, interact with peers, and to learn from their mistakes. There are some things we can do however:
• Accept that you are anxious and fearful
• Identify the risks most likely to actually endanger your child. Empower your child with tools to respond to these risks and help protect themselves through awareness.
• Teach your child healthy, effective ways to cope with anxiety.
• Confront fears with reasonable action. Doing something reasonable and practical is better than compulsively worrying.
If your anxiety seems more than other parents:
• Search for memories of your own experiences–recognizing anxiety triggers from your past may allow you to respond with less panic.
• Talk with other parents, friends, and family to process your feelings. This may help you be less emotional and more objective and constructive in reacting to your child.
• Notice whether you are so caught up in your kid’s lives that you have little time, energy, or attention to deal with your own needs.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with anxiety about yourself or your family WellFamily Medicine can help! Please do not hesitate to schedule an appointment if you would like to discuss strategies to help you and your family live your best lives.
Kaitlyn Levin, MD