How to avoid passing your anxiety to your children

Developed by Dina Halaseh, Director of Training at Mind Matters.

When children find themselves in a situation that has ambiguous meanings to them, they look around and see how their parents will respond or interpret that situation. If parents are constantly anxious or worried, children echo that anxiety and decide that the situation is not safe.

It’s hard for parents to think they might be transmitting their own stress to their children but unfortunately, in many scenarios, this is exactly what happens. If you’re going through anxious times and you feel like your child is showing signs of anxiety because of it, there is no need to punish yourself or feel guilty. It’s more common than you think. Instead, focus on implementing the following strategies so you don’t pass your feelings on to them.

The main goal is to manage your anxiety, and help your kids manage theirs.

Children learn from what they see, so be a model of tolerance.

If you have a certain strategy to calm yourself down, try to practice it with your child. Since children pick up on everything, ensure you monitor your own words, facial expressions, and the emotions you’re communicating.

In many cases, parents tend to lie their way out of a situation, or give excuses or answers that are not very accurate. Try to avoid this and answer truthfully to their questions. There’s no need to share all the details. If you don’t know the answer to a question, tell them you don’t, but you will try to find it out – instead of just saying anything.

It’s ok to show your child that you are anxious.

Be careful not to overshare, however. Children are not supposed to see every anxious or worrying moment you experience. But it is healthy for them to see you cope with stress. Explain to them how and why you reacted in the way you did, when faced with a stressful situation.

This gives children the permission to feel stressed, and shows them that stress is a manageable emotion. Encourage them to share their fears, thoughts, and worries with you.

Try to understand your own stress triggers in order to negate them.

When you understand what’s causing your stress, you can either find a solution or at least control some of the triggers causing it. This could also include a more positive self-talk, an example would be “I can handle these challenges, or It’s ok, things will pass”. Be compassionate towards yourself and acknowledge you’re doing your best.

Sizing-up different problems.

One of the techniques which can be used to help size-up problems and understand the triggers, is using a small, medium, and big box. Sit with your child and discuss how some problems are small problems they can solve on their own and hence they go into the small box, some are medium problems that go into the medium box, these problems are the ones you can brainstorm together to find a solution and finally the big problems are the ones that you are there to help them resolve.

Know when to disengage.

If you know a situation will cause you unnecessary stress, stay away. We often put ourselves through a lot of unnecessary stress. If watching the news is causing you to panic, overthink, or worry about different issues, simply try to stop before you’re anxious. If you feel you’re getting overwhelmed with stress in front of your child, simply take a break.

Engage in self-relieving activities.

When you can’t stop the triggers causing your anxiety, try to engage in an activity that usually destresses you. This could be as simple as drinking a cup of tea, taking a shower, or enjoying some fresh air. I personally find deep breathing to be one of my favorite activities. I take a deep breath, hold it in for about 3 seconds, and exhale slowly. While doing so, I sometimes focus on the grounding techniques of focusing on all my senses – what I can smell, taste, hear, see, and touch. This helps my mind focus on the now instead of on my stress.

We are going through stressful times, and this stress will be picked up by our children. However, managing stress within your family will strengthen the bond between you, especially by doing more activities together. Remind them that you are there to protect them, that you are responsible for their safety and that you will always do everything in your power to make sure they stay safe. Remind them that their only responsibility is to stick to their routine, study, and play.

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