How to Avoid Passing Your Anxiety on to Your Kids

Help yourself, and them, by learning techniques to manage stress in a healthy way.

Brigit Katz, Child Mind Institute

On a recent afternoon, JD Bailey was trying to get her two young daughters to their dance class. A work assignment delayed her attempts to leave the house, and when Bailey was finally ready to go, she realized that her girls still didn’t have their dance clothes on.

She began to feel overwhelmed and frustrated, and in the car ride on the way to the class, she shouted at her daughters for not being ready on time. “Suddenly I was like, ‘What am I doing?’” she recalls, filled with anxiety. “‘This isn’t their fault. This is me.’ ”

Taking cues from you

Witnessing a parent in a state of anxiety can be more than just momentarily unsettling for children. Kids look to their parents for information about how to interpret ambiguous situations; if a parent seems consistently anxious and fearful, the child will determine that a variety of scenarios are unsafe. And there is evidence that children of anxious parents are more likely to exhibit anxiety themselves, a probable combination of genetic risk factors and learned behaviors.

It can be painful to think that, despite your best intentions, you may find yourself transmitting your own stress to your child. But if you are dealing with anxiety and start to notice your child exhibiting anxious behaviors, the first important thing is not to get bogged down by guilt.

“There’s no need to punish yourself,” says Dr. Jamie Howard, director of the Stress and Resilience Program at the Child Mind Institute. “It feels really bad to have anxiety, and it’s not easy to turn off.”

But the transmission of anxiety from parent to child is not inevitable. The second important thing to do is implement strategies to help ensure that you do not pass your anxiety on to your kids. That means managing your own stress as effectively as possible, and helping your kids manage theirs. “If a child is prone to anxiety,” Dr. Howard adds, “it’s helpful to know it sooner and to learn the strategies to manage sooner.”

Learn stress management techniques

It can be very difficult to communicate a sense of calm to your child when you are struggling to cope with your own anxiety. A mental health professional can help you work through methods of stress management that will suit your specific needs. As you learn to tolerate stress, you will in turn be teaching your child—who takes cues from your behavior—how to cope with situations of uncertainty or doubt.

“A big part of treatment for children with anxiety,” explains Dr. Laura Kirmayer, a clinical psychologist, “is actually teaching parents stress tolerance. It’s a simultaneous process—it’s both directing the parent’s anxiety, and then how they also support and scaffold the child’s development of stress tolerance.”

Model stress tolerance

You might find yourself learning strategies in therapy that you can then impart to your child when she is feeling anxious. If, for example, you are working on thinking rationally during times of stress, you can practice those same skills with your child. Say to her: “I understand that you are scared, but what are the chances something scary is actually going to happen?”

Try to maintain a calm, neutral demeanor in front of your child, even as you are working on managing your anxiety.

Dr. Howard says, “Be aware of your facial expressions, the words you choose, and the intensity of the emotion you express, because kids are reading you. They’re little sponges and they pick up on everything.”

Explain your anxiety

While you don’t want your child to witness every anxious moment you experience, you do not have to constantly suppress your emotions. It’s okay—and even healthy—for children to see their parents cope with stress every now and then, but you want to explain why you reacted in the way that you did.

Let’s say, for example, you lost your temper because you were worried about getting your child to school on time. Later, when things are calm, say to her: “Do you remember when I got really frustrated in the morning? I was feeling anxious because you were late for school, and the way I managed my anxiety was by yelling. But there are other ways you can manage it too. Maybe we can come up with a better way of leaving the house each morning.”

Talking about anxiety in this way gives children permission to feel stress, explains Dr. Kirmayer, and sends the message that stress is manageable. “If we feel like we have to constantly protect our children from seeing us sad, or angry, or anxious, we’re subtly giving our children the message that they don’t have permission to feel those feelings, or express them, or manage them,” she adds. “Then we’re also, in a way, giving them an indication that there isn’t a way to manage them when they happen.”

Make a plan

Come up with strategies in advance for managing specific situations that trigger your stress. You may even involve your child in the plan.

If, for example, you find yourself feeling anxious about getting your son ready for bed by a reasonable hour, talk to him about how you can work together to better handle this stressful transition in the future.

Maybe you can come up with a plan wherein he earns points toward a privilege whenever he goes through his evening routine without protesting his bedtime.

These strategies should be used sparingly: You don’t want to put the responsibility on your child to manage your anxiety if it permeates many aspects of your life. But seeing you implement a plan to curb specific anxious moments lets him know that stress can be tolerated and managed.

Know when to disengage

If you know that a situation causes you undue stress, you might want to plan ahead to absent yourself from that situation so your children will not interpret it as unsafe. Let’s say, for example, that school drop-offs fill you with separation anxiety. Eventually you want to be able to take your child to school, but if you are still in treatment, you can ask a co-parent or co-adult to handle the drop off. “

You don’t want to model this very worried, concerned expression upon separating from your children,” says Dr. Howard. “You don’t want them to think that there’s anything dangerous about dropping them off at school.”

In general, if you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed with anxiety in the presence of your child, try to take a break. Danielle Veith, a stay-at-home mom who blogs about her struggles with anxiety, will take some time to herself and engage in stress-relieving activities when she starts to feel acutely anxious. “I have a list of to-do-right-this-second tips for dealing with a panic, which I carry with me: take a walk, drink tea, take a bath, or just get out the door into the air,” she says. “For me, it’s about trusting in the fact that the anxiety will pass and just getting through until it passes.”

Find a support system

Trying to parent while struggling with your own mental health can be a challenge, but you don’t have to do it alone. Rely on the people in your life who will step in when you feel overwhelmed, or even just offer words of support. Those people can be therapists, co-parents, or friends.

“I am a part of an actual support group, but I also have a network of friends,” says Veith. “I am open with friends about who I am, because I need to be able to call on them and ask for help. ”
Information provided by https://childmind.org/article/how-to-avoid-passing-anxiety-on-to-your-kids/

Tip for Parents/Guardians on How to Support Kids in the Home During Coronavirus

As schools close and workplaces go remote to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, parents everywhere are struggling to keep children healthy and occupied.

If you’re anxious about how to protect and nurture kids through this crisis — often juggling work obligations at the same time — you’re in good (virtual) company.

KEEP ROUTINES IN PLACE

  • The experts all agree that setting and sticking to a regular schedule is key, even when you’re all at home all day. Kids should get up, eat and go to bed at their normal times. Consistency and structure are calming during times of stress. Kids, especially younger ones or those who are anxious, benefit from knowing what’s going to happen and when.
  • The schedule can mimic a school or day camp schedule, changing activities at predictable intervals, and alternating periods of study and play.
  • It may help to print out a schedule and go over it as a family each morning. Setting a timer will help kids know when activities are about to begin or end. Having regular reminders will help head off meltdowns when it’s time to transition from one thing to the next.

BE CREATIVE ABOUT NEW ACTIVITIES AND EXERCISE

  • Incorporate new activities into your routine, like doing a puzzle or having family game time in the evening. For example, my family is baking our way through a favorite dessert cookbook together with my daughter as sous chef.
  • Build in activities that help everyone get some exercise (without contact with other kids or things touched by other kids, like playground equipment). Take a daily family walk or bike ride or do yoga — great ways to let kids burn off energy and make sure everyone is staying active.
  • David Anderson, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, recommends brainstorming ways to go “back to the 80s,” before the time of screen prevalence. “I’ve been asking parents to think about their favorite activities at summer camp or at home before screens,” he says. “They often then generate lists of arts and crafts activities, science projects, imaginary games, musical activities, board games, household projects, etc.”

MANAGE YOUR OWN ANXIETY

  • It’s completely understandable to be anxious right now (how could we not be?) but how we manage that anxiety has a big impact on our kids. Keeping your worries in check will help your whole family navigate this uncertain situation as easily as possible.
  • “Watch out for catastrophic thinking,” says Mark Reinecke, PhD, a clinical psychologist with the Child Mind Institute. For example, assuming every cough is a sign you’ve been infected, or reading news stories that dwell on worst-case scenarios. “Keep a sense of perspective, engage in solution-focused thinking and balance this with mindful acceptance.”

  • For those moments when you do catch yourself feeling anxious, try to avoid talking about your concerns within earshot of children. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, step away and take a break. That could look like taking a shower or going outside or into another room and taking a few deep breaths.

LIMIT CONSUMPTION OF NEWS

  • Staying informed is important, but it’s a good idea to limit consumption of news and social media that has the potential to feed your anxiety, and that of your kids. Turn the TV off and mute or unfollow friends or co-workers who are prone to sharing panic-inducing posts.
  • Take a social media hiatus or make a point of following accounts that share content that take your mind off the crisis, whether it’s about nature, art, baking or crafts.

STAY IN TOUCH VIRTUALLY

  • Keep your support network strong, even when you’re only able to call or text friends and family. Socializing plays an important role in regulating your mood and helping you stay grounded. And the same is true for your children.
  • Let kids use social media (within reason) and Skype or FaceTime to stay connected to peers even if they aren’t usually allowed to do so. Communication can help kids feel less alone and mitigate some of the stress that comes from being away from friends.
  • Technology can also help younger kids feel closer to relatives or friends they can’t see at the moment. My parents video chat with their granddaughter every night and read her a (digital) bedtime story. It’s not perfect, but it helps us all feel closer and less stressed.

KEEP IT POSITIVE

  • Though adults are feeling apprehensive, to most children the words “School’s closed” are cause for celebration. “My kid was thrilled when he found out school would be closing,” says Rachel Busman, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. Parents, she says, should validate that feeling of excitement and use it as a springboard to help kids stay calm and happy.
  • Let kids know that you’re glad they’re excited, but make sure they understand that though it may feel like vacations they’ve had in the past, things will be different this time. For example, Dr. Busman suggests, “It’s so cool to have everyone home together. We’re going to have good time! Remember, though, we’ll still be doing work and sticking to a regular schedule.”

 

Information provided by https://childmind.org/article/supporting-kids-during-the-covid-19-crisis/

Talking to Kids about Coronavirus

News of the coronavirus COVID-19 is everywhere, from the front page of all the papers to the playground at school. Many parents are wondering how to bring up the epidemic in a way that will be reassuring and not make kids more worried than they already may be. Here is some advice from the experts at the Child Mind Institute.

Don’t be afraid to discuss the coronavirus.

Most children will have already heard about the virus or seen people wearing face masks, so parents shouldn’t avoid talking about it. Not talking about something can actually make kids worry more. Look at the conversation as an opportunity to convey the facts and set the emotional tone.

“You take on the news and you’re the person who filters the news to your kid,” explains Janine Domingues, PhD, a child psychologist at the Child Mind Institute.

Your goal is to help your children feel informed and get fact-based information that is likely more reassuring than whatever they’re hearing from their friends or on the news.

Be developmentally appropriate.

Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child’s questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters.

Take your cues from your child.

Invite your child to tell you anything they may have heard about the coronavirus, and how they feel. Give them ample opportunity to ask questions. You want to be prepared to answer (but not prompt) questions. Your goal is to avoid encouraging frightening fantasies.

Deal with your own anxiety.

“When you’re feeling most anxious or panicked, that isn’t the time to talk to your kids about what’s happening with the coronavirus,” warns Dr. Domingues.

If you notice that you are feeling anxious, take some time to calm down before trying to have a conversation or answer your child’s questions.

Be reassuring.

Children are very egocentric, so hearing about the coronavirus on the news may be enough to make them seriously worry that they’ll catch it. It’s helpful to reassure your child about how rare the coronavirus actually is (the flu is much more common) and that kids actually seem to have milder symptoms.

Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe.

An important way to reassure kids is to emphasize the safety precautions that you are taking.

Jamie Howard, PhD, a child psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, notes, “Kids feel empowered when they know what to do to keep themselves safe.”

We know that the coronavirus is transmitted mostly by coughing and touching surfaces. The CDC recommends thoroughly washing your hands as the primary means of staying healthy. So remind kids that they are taking care of themselves by washing their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (or the length of two “Happy Birthday” songs) when they come in from outside, before they eat, and after blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing or using the bathroom. If kids ask about face masks, explain that the experts at the CDC say they aren’t necessary for most people. If kids see people wearing face masks, explain that those people are being extra cautious.

Stick to routine.

“We don’t like uncertainty, so staying rooted in routines and predictability is going to be helpful right now,” advises Dr. Domingues.

This is particularly important if your child’s school or daycare shuts down. Make sure you are taking care of the basics just like you would during a spring break or summer vacation. Structured days with regular mealtimes and bedtimes are an essential part of keeping kids happy and healthy.

Keep talking.

Tell kids that you will continue to keep them updated as you learn more. “Let them know that the lines of communication are going to be open,” says Dr. Domingues.

“You can say, ‘Even though we don’t have the answers to everything right now, know that once we know more, mom or dad will let you know, too.’”
Information provided by https://childmind.org/article/talking-to-kids-about-the-coronavirus/