I know, I know . . . Who wants to raise an anxious child? Who would ever read such a post?
Of course, none of us intentionally tries to raise a child prone to anxiety and stress.
But many of us are. Myself included. I’m not preaching to you from the pulpit – I’m talking to you as a friend sitting with you in the same boat. And at times it feels like we’re wearing life preservers and praying for rescue, doesn’t it?
The more I think about this though, the more I realize that perhaps parenting is really not as complicated as I make it out to be. Less is more.
Two out of three of my children naturally deal with mild to moderate anxiety. So because of their prone-to-worry ways, I’ve made myself check myself.
Like it or not, we moms are the emotional thermostat of the family and if we’re cold, they’re cold. If we’re warm, they’re warm. And if we’re hot, they’re hot.
My husband used to tell me this and I chalked it up to him not wanting to take responsibility for his actions and attitudes. Ha. Can we say denial? Because he’s absolutely correct.
Of course, there are exceptions to this but as a generality, moms tend to set the emotional temperature.
So here’s five ways to raise an anxious child – unfortunately learned the hard way:
1. Always be in a hurry. Constantly tell them to “hurry up” in a cranky voice and wonder aloud why they always must take so long to do everything. OK, look at me: there is no condemnation here. We’ve all, every single one of us, said this stuff to our kids because for the love . . . there is no sense of urgency in the life of a child because we moms know the deadlines and they don’t. Or they do but don’t care. Whatever. The thing is, we can still teach them to be punctual without constantly telling them to hurry up and lamenting on their pokiness. I’ve recently felt a holy conviction on this and I’ve found that when I explain to my children what they need to do by what time, they learn to manage their time better. If they get x, y, and z done before school and still have time left-over, they have free-time. If they don’t, they don’t. And I’ve also started to take responsibility when we’re running late and it’s my fault. I apologize and we move-on. If they’re tardy to school, it will be a learning experience – for us all. Not to say that I don’t sometimes lose my stuff and freak-out but it’s happening less often. Imperfect progress.
2. Over-schedule them so they never have any down-time to rest or just play. On Tuesday, I wrote about the need to have white space in our lives. And guess what? Our kids need it, too. It brings me great joy to watch my three running in a pack from house-to-house in the ‘hood with their posse of friends. There have been many o’ Nerf gun battles and the pretend play that goes on around here would impress Steven Spielberg. We adhere to the one-activity-at-a-time rule because with three children, this alone can be crazy. But time to just play and exercise their creativity is more important to me than running around town flitting from practice to lesson every night. They hold it together at school for seven hours a day – they need time to think on their own and make their own choices of what to do. White space allows your soul to exhale – and theirs.
3. Be reactive instead of proactive. When we stress-out about every little thing, we forget one major detail: our kids are usually watching us. If I overreact about things that come up in the day, they’ll learn to do the same. Trust me on this – I was once queen-supreme reactor. As a result, I’m still undoing this thought-process in my oldest child. One thing that’s helped me? Lysa TerKeurst’s suggested reminder: If this is the worst thing that happens to me today, it’s still a pretty good day. Perspective.
4. Don’t ever let your children see you taking care of yourself or resting. If you are neglectful of your own needs of eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting enough sleep, they’ll learn to do the same. I don’t know about you but I want to raise my children to think of others first but also walk the fine line of prioritizing self-care. We can’t serve others if we don’t serve ourselves, too. Get the box of donuts for Saturday morning and tell ’em to have at it until mom and dad wake up. Declare a 30 minute quiet time so you can read or return e-mails or whatever you need to do to fill your own cup. They’ll have time to do the same. Exercise. Don’t just eat the leftover PBJ crusts and Cheese-Its. You’re worth it and they’ll see it. Win-win.
5. Allow your kids to talk over your marriage. Oh, girls (and you handful of boy readers). I almost obtained my PhD in this about nine years ago. Luckily, my own husband and a host of advisers stopped me before I could graduate. It’s amazing how Jason and I could be having a much-needed discussion in the kitchen after dinner and one of our three little darlings will start to talk OVER us.
Now. I love my children something fierce but I don’t get enough time to just really talk to the man I love oh, second behind God. Confession: when this happens, there is a visceral uprising desire within my soul to pinch them. I don’t do it – but I feel like I want to. Don’t send me hate mail, please.
Our kids need to know they aren’t center of our universe. We love them so, but they aren’t all it. They’ll actually feel more loved when you instill those boundaries and they won’t grow-up expecting the world to cater to their every whim. Not to mention nothing relieves anxiety for a child more than two parents who love each other and like to talk to one another.
So let’s say yes to white space – for us and for our kids. Exhale. Slow down. Say no to even good stuff if it’s just too much. Listen to God and teach them how to do the same. Enjoy His creation.
They won’t live with us forever.
The components of anxiety, stress, fear, and anger, do not exist independently of you in the world. They simply do not exist in the physical world, even though we talk about them as if they do. – Wayne Dyer