This week I have the pleasure of sharing a guest post by Sarah Leitschuh, MA, LMFT. Sarah is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and owner of Sarah Leitschuh Counseling, PLLC. She provides therapy services, groups, educational workshops and supervision services in Eagan, MN. Sarah works with parents who are overwhelmed and burnt out, as they figure out how to care for their children, nurture their relationship with their partner and attend to their own well-being. Prior to opening her own practice Sarah worked at a non-profit agency where the primary focus of her work was providing therapy for children who had experienced abuse.
Have you ever felt like your anxiety has gotten in the way of parenting the way you would like? You are not alone. As parents, the experience of our own anxiety and parenting can be a tricky combination; this is especially true when our child also experiences anxiety. It is not uncommon for parents and children to feel like they trigger each others' anxiety. Yes, it can be challenging to support our children when they are anxious and manage our own anxiety at the same time. But, it can be done. Below you will find five tips that you may find helpful to consider when you find that anxiety is at play for you and your child.
1. Be mindful of which emotions you are experiencing and which emotions your child is experiencing.
It is important to remember that our children's emotions don't always match our own. Being clear on who is anxious is an important part of determining how to respond to the anxiety. Is your child anxious? Are you anxious? Are you both anxious?
2. Utilize calming strategies.
Often times, anxiety can be so intense for children that it is difficult for them to share much information about their anxiety with us. By walking your children through some calming strategies, you may help them alleviate some of the immediate intensity of their anxiety while also getting the benefit of the use of these calming strategies yourself.
3. Assess and process the situation causing anxiety and support your child in deciding how to move forward.
I specifically encourage parents to be purposeful in taking a supportive role instead of taking on responsibility to resolve their child's anxiety because we want to empower our children to develop the skills needed to cope with the anxiety they experience. In the long run, helping our children feel confident in their ability to respond to anxiety-provoking situations helps them successfully interact with the world as they get older while also taking some pressure off of us to always have the answer for them (thus reducing a parent's anxiety).
4. Don't hesitate to ask for outside support for yourself and your child.
If you feel so intensely anxious that it is hard to support your child through an anxiety provoking situation, it is ok to ask others to help you do so. I also encourage parents to have a strong support system of family, friends, other parents, and even professionals that they can talk to about the situations that make them anxious, so that their own anxiety doesn't spill into interactions with their child.
5. Try to consider your anxiety as an opportunity to connect with your child.
In my work with children and teenagers who experience anxiety, one of the things that they tell me they find to be most difficult is the belief that no one understands their experience of anxiety. As a parent who experiences anxiety, you may have a unique opportunity to connect with your child through the shared experience of anxiety. Sharing your understanding of anxiety and how you’ve worked through it may help your child feel more understood and less alone. I encourage you to consider how to share this type of information in a way that is helpful to your children without minimizing their experience or burdening them with your worries.
I hope that you find these tips helpful in figuring out the way to best support your anxious child, while also taking care of any of your own anxiety that may pop up. Please feel free to leave a comment sharing other tips that you’ve found helpful for your family.