If youre an anxious parent, chances are youre passing that onto your child. Wait before you worry, though: there are strategies for breaking that cycle.
While its an almost perfect catch-22parents with anxiety issues realize that they may be teaching their children those same tendencies, which leads to more worrying on the parents parteducating yourself about how to empower your child is a good first step in avoiding that pattern.
Increasing Stress Levels
For a variety of reasons, including anxious parents, anxiety on the rise among children and teens.
Psychology Today reports that anxiety has been steadily rising among youth for over a half century: according to their research, five to eight times as many high school and college students today experience high levels of anxiety and/or depression than did 50 years ago.
Those numbers are rising for adults, as well, with the National Institute of Mental Health reporting that 18 percent of American adults are affected by anxiety disorders each year.
Those who are parents, in turn, make it up to seven times more likely that their children will develop an anxiety disorder.
Theres no single reason for this increase in stress: while some people point to an extreme culture of safety-proofing in parenting, in particular, others blame everything from standardized testing to a poor economy to excessive scheduling of our supposed free time.
Passing on Habits
For some disorders, genetics make the difference.
Panic disorder, for instance, was the subject of a recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers discovered that the gene trkC was one factor in making children more susceptible to this anxiety disease.
Though specific genes have not been identified as the culprits for every anxiety disorder, its important to be aware of the danger a parents affliction may pose for a child.
On the other hand, many children dont get a specific diagnosis or disorder: they simply pick up on moms or dads anxiety and adopt certain facets of that behavior. Just like children learn innumerable other skills and habits, if they see their parents worrying, theyll become first-class worriers, too.
Golda Ginsburg, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, framed the problem: if a parent is showing anxiety, jumping up on a table when they see a mouse versus reacting calmly, we know children are more likely to develop fears similar to what their parents are showing.
Putting a Stop to the Cycle
Helping your child unlearn anxious behaviors isnt a one day process, but its certainly doable.
The key, according to numerous sources, is allowing your child to make mistakes and face his or her fears. Of course, that shouldnt be taken to the extreme of putting a child in danger, but its often parents own aversion to whats uncomfortable or scary that nurtures that same anxiety in children, according to NPRs report on the subject.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), one of the most-often recommended means of treating anxiety disorders, urges parents and children to examine those personal aversions and phobias in order to see how theyre affecting their lives. As described by PubMed Health, CBT relies on a well-studied body of research and focuses on the following:
– Recognizing problems and finding solutions
– Empowering the client to cope with daily life
– Creating a collaborative partnership between client and therapist
– Asking the client to analyze his or her own thoughts and determine how they might be having a negative effect on well-being
It can be tough for parents to let children do things that are frightening, especially if the parent is dealing with anxiety, too.
However, by pushing children to challenge themselves, youre allowing them a chance to succeed. And when they do, theyll build confidence and reduce anxiety.