Parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world. There’s very little in the way of training for this role and the best approach can change from child to child and week to week.
Many adults get a feeling of parental anxiety. This can be caused by many factors, have different levels of impact on kids, and not always have an easy fix. The first step to managing parenting anxiety is to get a good understanding of what it actually entails.
What is parental anxiety?
Parental anxiety can present in many ways, but the root of it is an excessive level of worry that something might go wrong for their kids — either now or in the future.
This can be something relatively minor like the pain of them falling from a low branch on a tree they’re climbing to full blown anxiety that certain factors in their life will restrict them from meeting their full potential as adults.
Causes of parental anxiety
Anxiety is a real issue and one that is common in adults in Australia and across the world. There’s no single cause or worry factor that accounts for parenting anxiety, but some of the most common are:
- Stressful environments
- Past childhood experiences
- Mental health issues
- Over-comparing your child
This list is by no means exhaustive and, as with all health issues, it’s a good idea to talk to your GP about potential causes and solutions.
Although feeling anxious is often the result of internal worries or pressures, sometimes external factors are the cause. Stressful environments can come in a number of different forms, from physical to emotional.
Financial worries are one of the most common causes of anxiety, but other things like relationship breakdowns, health issues or abuse (at home or at work, for example) can all be triggers.
Past childhood experiences
In many cases, anxiety stems from our childhoods. Bullying, parenting stress and unresolved trauma can all lead to issues later on in life. Often, our behaviour and thinking patterns are formed in ways that can have negative effects later on in life, even though it might not be immediately obvious. We can carry this baggage with us for decades without realising it.
Mental health issues
Sometimes parental anxiety is a long-standing issue. If you had mental health problems at a younger age they can, unfortunately, crop up again. Although many mental health issues are unlikely to be ‘cured’, a better understanding of what’s going on can help you deal with it.
There’s no one size fits all approach to mental health, but speaking to a mental health professional can help you manage and recognise the symptoms so you can better deal with them.
Over-comparing your child
As with other forms of anxiety, parental anxiety can stem from a worry that someone’s not good enough. With the growth of the internet and social media, we can see experts and prodigies from all over the world like never before.
Comparing your child (or yourself) with others is never a good idea. While there are some guidelines for how children should develop, everyone grows at a different rate. Some may be chatterboxes while others develop physically first. In most cases, kids will catch up in other areas as they grow.
Impact on children
There’s no conclusive evidence that parental anxiety directly impacts children. While it’s true that lifelong anxiety is often caused by childhood events, a parent dealing with anxiety can still be an excellent role model for their kids.
In terms of negative consequences, there are suggestions that parental anxiety can have some impact on children, such as:
- Mental health
- Passing on the anxiety
- Lack of resilience
- Lack of independence
- Behaviours in adulthood
Some parenting guides suggest that the most important thing we can provide for our kids is a safe upbringing with a strong support system, but this is easier said than done.
A stressful household can have an effect on the way a child’s brain develops and by being overprotective you can limit the amount of time your child gets to simply be a kid.
Passing on the anxiety
Children learn a lot from our behaviours, so if they see you acting in a certain way, they may pick up on these cues. However, in these cases, they’re often just mimicking anxious actions rather than truly feeling that way.
There is, however, some scientific research that shows that some forms of anxiety can be hereditary, so kids of anxious parents may be predisposed to anxiety later in life.
One unintended consequence of anxious parenting can be resentment. In many cases, this is very short-lived, but it still hurts.
Parental anxiety may cause adults to prevent their children taking up opportunities. This may be an invitation to a sleepover or a chance to play at certain places. The child, unaware of any perceived dangers, just sees that they’re not being allowed to do something they’re sure will be fun.
Lack of resilience
Just as courage isn’t something we do in absence of fear, resilience isn’t something we can build with the absence of obstacles. Instead, kids (and adults) become more resilient by facing hardships and working hard to overcome them.
While no parent wants to wish major difficulties on their children, small problems can help kids learn problem-solving skills and give them the confidence to back themselves when life gets tough.
Lack of independence
Some anxious parents can be termed rather cruelly as ‘helicopter parents’. They’re the ones constantly fussing over their kids and hovering around them in case they hurt themselves.
Anxiety can cause parents to be too overprotective, which means they don’t get the chance to take necessary risks and push themselves, causing them to lack confidence in their own abilities, instead constantly turning to a parent or adult for help.
Behaviours in adulthood
In many cases, anxiety as an adult can be traced back to childhood behaviours or traumas. Often, these aren’t things that have been done out of malice, but the actions of an anxious parent could have unintentional effects on their kids.
One example is a lack of independence. If a parent is anxious about their child getting hurt, they may prevent any form of risky play, which can rob a child of confidence which in turn can lead to an adult who is anxious about situations where there’s any form of perceived risk.
Ways to manage parental anxiety
There’s no simple answer for how to manage parental anxiety, but there are tactics and resources available to help you. Some of the major steps include:
- Accept your anxieties
- Understand the boundaries
- Confide in your partner, family, or other parents
- Find professional help
Accept your anxieties
The first step to managing your own anxiety is to accept that this is what you’re experiencing. By exploring your fears and worries, you’ll be on the road to dealing with them more adequately.
For many parents, there might be certain scenarios or places that give them anxiety, for others their worries might be more future-based.
By noticing and writing down your fears, parents can start to come up with ways to manage them.
Understand the boundaries
Often, our fears as a parent are based in reality. Other times we take it too far. What we want is a balance — and to achieve that we need to work out our boundaries.
For instance, you might have banned screens because you’re worried that your child will become addicted to them and their development will suffer. However, you may find that by allowing a small amount of screen time, with a firm boundary, your child can enjoy the best of both worlds without suffering.
Confide in your partner, family, or other parents
Like with any problem in life, it’s not advised to go it alone. Often by speaking to someone you trust, you’ll find that you can talk through the problem, get a fresh perspective and find a new approach. Parenting is hard and very new for a lot of people, and it’s completely understandable that you might need help.
Remember, though, that not all parents have the same approaches. You may find that some people will give you advice that jars with what you believe, and in cases like this you don’t always need to follow it. However, you’ll soon learn which parents give sound advice and you can go to them again to help you when you get stuck.
Find professional support
While some aspects of parental anxiety can be dealt with by talking to friends or making small changes, the underlying mental health issues of anxiety may need something more.
More and more people in Australia are finding relief and support through professionals. Psychologists, therapists and mental health professionals can help get to the root of anxiety issues and give coping strategies to help you parent more confidently.
By speaking to your GP first, you may be able to get a mental health plan to help lower the cost of professional support.
Getting help with your child
To begin the childcare transition, you’ll need a CRN and to choose childcare in your region. Your child will get the support of trained educators and other children — ideally one with an appropriate adult to child ratio.