Parenting Lessons Only Your Anxious Kids Can Teach You (by Natasha Daniels)

Parenting Lessons Only Your Anxious Kids can Teach You

I decided I wanted to be a child therapist long before I ever had children. I finished graduate school before I even began motherhood. I knew all the signs and symptoms of every childhood mental health disorder before my first child entered the world. You would think I was well prepared. You would think if anyone could handle anxious kids – it would be me. Apparently the universe shared the same sentiment – as it dutifully delivered me child after child with some form of anxiety in their DNA.

At first I was in denial. I quickly rebuked my education and my profession and thought, “Come on! These things seem normal to me. My kids do all of those things. What’s the big deal?”

Eventually the reality started to sink in. No, not every kid does that. No, not every parent has to worry about going on the highway – because their three year old goes into a panic. No, not every parent has to talk to their five year old about what will happen when they die.

After twelve years and three children later – I have embraced anxiety as much as I embrace my children. My children have taught me more about life than any textbook ever did. I have realized that anxious kids have much to teach us.

The lessons anxious kids teach us…

  1. That we need to believe in them – not in their fear.

    Early on I found myself accommodating my child’s fear. She doesn’t like highways – I should find an alternative route. She doesn’t like elevators – let’s find the stairs. Over time – she would surprise me with her tenacity and her ability to dig deep and face her fears.

    I realized that she was more of a fighter than I was allowing her to be. That she was tired of her worries and she wanted them to go away. Instead of turning away from her fears – I began to hold her hand and we faced them together. One small step at a time.

  2. That our fears aren’t always their fears.



    Time and time again my children have awed and inspired me. I have inadvertently put them and their worries into tiny, predictable boxes. I play out scenarios in my head and anticipate how situations will unfold. Luckily I have often been wrong.

    I have realized – I can’t underestimate my children.

    I think I was more nervous about kindergarten than my son. I walked him to the gate on the first day – waiting for the meltdown. Waiting for the battle to start. Wondering if the school counselor was in on the first day. He turned to me and said, “You can go. I’m good.” And – he didn’t look back. Not once.

  3. That our words can tear them down and lift them up.

    Anxious children tend to be much more sensitive in general. My kids are no exception. They love hard and hurt hard. Sensitive children often have the biggest hearts. My three year old is the first to notice when I am having a bad day. She is also the first one to sulk in a corner for hours when I correct her behavior. She is the one who frequently asks, “Are you proud of me?” five zillion times a day.

    I realize that my words have weight.

    They are actively shaping the way she views herself. I have learned to be cautious with my words – as they can tear my little girl down in a heart beat or they can lift her up. I am in the process of helping her develop her own inner dialogue. That could be good or that could be bad – it was up to me.

  4. That they are watching.

    They are watching our reaction. They are watching our emotions. They are watching our choices. Anxious children are observant. My kids notice my subtle tone change. They hear the high pitch of my nerves.

    Emotions are contagious. Especially when your children look for you to be their anchor.

    When I am nervous – they are nervous. Sometimes unfortunately when they wouldn’t have been otherwise. I have had to develop a good poker face. Sometimes I can do this – and sometimes I fail. But, I always try my best.

I have learned to stop worrying about their worries – as much. I take one day at a time. One fear, phobia, struggle – at a time.

I remember when my oldest daughter couldn’t sleep unless she was holding my hand. I thought she’d sleep next to me forever. She is now twelve and would deny that ever happened. Oh, it happened.

I remember not too long ago when I thought my youngest would never go poop in the potty. Her fear was palpable – as she walked around holding her bottom saying, “I no poop. I no poop!” That too has passed.

We are on to the next challenges life inevitably brings – but with a new belief. A belief in my children. In anxious children. A belief in their strength. In our strength. A knowledge that we can get through whatever life wants to throw at us – one day at a time.


About the Author: Natasha DanielsNatasha Daniels

Natasha is a Child Therapist and a mother to three vibrant, challenging and insightful children who keep her on her toes! She created her website, Anxious Toddlers, to offer support, guidance and laughs to parents of toddlers. She has spent the last fifteen years working with toddlers in her practice and helping families with parenting issues at Hill Child Counseling – ‘Sometimes toddlers can feel like a different species and I hope to help unlock the mystery of how to keep your little one smiling, laughing and enjoying the moment one day at a time.’

Natasha is a Clinical Social Worker and she received her post-graduate training in infant and toddler mental health at The Harris Institute. She is one of only a handful of child therapists who offer a specialty in toddler mental health and who has a practice that offers counseling to families on toddler parenting issues.

She spends half her week in her practice and the other half of her week soaking up the innocence of her children and enjoying the simpler things in life.

 

Her book How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler is available at all major book stores or it can be purchased directly from Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

She can be reached at .

You can find Natasha at her website, Anxious Toddlers, on FacebookPinterest, Twitter, Instagram, or making parenting videos for Curious.com. 

3 Comments

Heather G

Any advice on how to parent an anxious 9 year old when the anxiety is starting to limit what she does in life, and really affecting the rest of the family? How do we keep caring on when every day feels like a battle?

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During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.
"Be patient. We don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be. That feels really bad sometimes. Just keep reminding us that it’s okay that we don’t have it all figured out yet, and maybe remind yourself sometimes too."
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 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #neuronurtured #braindevelopment #adolescence  #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Would you be more likely to take advice from someone who listened to you first, or someone who insisted they knew best and worked hard to convince you? Our teens are just like us. If we want them to consider our advice and be open to our influence, making sure they feel heard is so important. Being right doesn't count for much at all if we aren't being heard.
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Hear what they think, what they want, why they think they're right, and why it’s important to them. Sometimes we'll want to change our mind, and sometimes we'll want to stand firm. When they feel fully heard, it’s more likely that they’ll be able to trust that our decisions or advice are given fully informed and with all of their needs considered. And we all need that.
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 #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #adolescence 
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"We’re pretty sure that when you say no to something it’s because you don’t understand why it’s so important to us. Of course you’ll need to say 'no' sometimes, and if you do, let us know that you understand the importance of whatever it is we’re asking for. It will make your ‘no’ much easier to accept. We need to know that you get it. Listen to what we have to say and ask questions to understand, not to prove us wrong. We’re not trying to control you or manipulate you. Some things might not seem important to you but if we’re asking, they’re really important to us.❤️" 
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#neurodevelopment #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting

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