Anxious Parenting: do you worry about your childs behavior?


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Anxious Parenting: Do You Worry about Your Child’s Behavior?by Debbie Pincus MS LMHC

“I can’t take it anymore. My child is so disrespectful to me—especially in front of other people. I feel like a failure as a parent.”

“My teen is failing three classes. She’s throwing her life away. I’m so worried about her I can’t sleep.”

“My kid makes me crazy. He’s so angry and hardheaded. He always has to do it ‘his way,’ and then he ends up blaming everyone else when he gets in trouble!”

When you need your child to act a certain way so that you can feel calm, power struggles will undoubtedly ensue.

Does your child’s behavior, the choices he makes—and fears about how he will turn out—weigh you down, making you feel like it’s all somehow a reflection on you? When our kids don’t act in ways we think they should, it’s natural to feel anxious and responsible: we’re only human. But when we do this, we stop seeing the boundary between where we end and where our child begins—we become “fused” with them. The danger here is that the more we feel responsible for the choices they make, the more we parent them out of anxiety, which leads to that panicked “out of control” feeling and knee-jerk parenting. In effect, your parenting becomes about needing your child to behave so you can feel okay. This causes parents to hover, nag and get in their kid’s “box.” When your wellbeing lies in your child’s hands, the more invested you’ll become in him—and the more anxious you’ll feel about his every move.

Related: The key to parenting more calmly.

The behavior of difficult, acting out kids makes us all the more anxious. “How in the world,” you’re probably saying, “can I be calm when my child is swearing at me, getting in trouble at school or constantly starting fights with siblings?” Of course these behaviors make us incredibly frustrated and overwhelmed, leaving us dangling at the end of our ropes, held on by a thread. But believe it or not, there is a way to handle even acting out behavior calmly—I know, because I help parents do it every day. Remember, if you parent from an anxious place, you will have more anxious kids—anxiety is contagious, but conversely, so is calm. Even when your child is way out of control and defiant, you have to find a way to stay in control of yourself. Parenting calmly will help your child calm down and will lead you to make better decisions on how to respond to these acting out behaviors and not give your kids anything to react to.

I want to make an important distinction here: What I don’t mean by “calm” is that you should be stiff and robot-like, or afraid to tell your kids what you think and what you believe. Parents can get so caught up in doing it right that they end up hiding their real selves. What our children need is genuine, honest engagement. They need us to be separate people with our own thoughts that we communicate to them.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Let’s say your child is refusing to do her homework. Look at the difference between these two statements that you might make:

“What’s wrong with you?! You’re driving me crazy. You’re going to end up like your uncle.”

“What’s going on with you? Your choices here concern me because I’m afraid you’re going to hurt yourself in the long run.”

The first statement comes from an anxious place: It puts blame, criticism and your own anxiety on your child, and tells her that you’re ashamed of her—and that you need her to take away that shame and anxiety. The second statement is thoughtful while also showing your true feelings. Expressing a concern like that will not only get your child’s attention, it will also show her that you care deeply. If you are emotionally separate enough, your child will usually understand that it’s an expression of your genuine love and concern for her. That’s where the real connection happens. Kids want and need us to be separate enough from them so that they can feel deeply connected to us—otherwise there is no “us” to connect to.


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