Every statistic we read about is telling us our children and teens have higher levels of anxiety and stress than ever before. I have seen a lot of children and teens that suffer, for various different reasons – all valid in their own heads. Some include fear of dogs, death, sickness, separation anxiety, sleep problems. We all have our own ‘stuff’. But I want to discuss this and share some of my tools for distressing and reducing anxiety in our families. As we already know, our children are sponges and pick up everything they know from us… if we can learn to be less stressed and anxious, then our children can learn that they can control it too.
The question has to be asked, ‘Why are our kids more anxious and stressed now?’ ‘What has changed?’ Here’s my theory:
Everyone is telling us that nowadays kids & teens have too much screen time, and therefore less ‘play’ time. I’m kinda sick of hearing this too… we know this. Yes its true – our kids need to play more, hang out and interact more with others. They learn how to negotiate, co-operate, deal with mean kids etc. They are learning social skills from being with others. However its a different technological world we live in now and we can’t leave them behind either. Balance and moderation has to be the way forward. I know I’m on my phone a lot too and that doesn’t help, it gives my children the message that its okay, but sometimes its important work that I’m doing sending emails and taking calls from parents. I try to let my eldest child listen to music and learn new songs and dances with her new tablet for 1 hour a day (some days she forgets which is fine with me). I also know twin girls that are brilliant artists and they are animating cartoons at age 11/12 which is a fantastic head start if they end up in this career. I think technology has its place, let kids find something they love or can learn from, if they have to be on their screens; let them benefit from it.
Life is so much busier now, many families are juggling so much; whether both parents are working full or part time, even parents who are at home, there is always so much to do – school runs, activities for various children, in and out of our cars, going here there and everywhere, (Not to mention homework, cooking, shopping, housework on top.) Basically there is not enough time in the day to do what we need to do… when we stress you can be sure that we stress our children out too. How many of us manage to get our kids up and out to school in a calm easy routine? I don’t know too many.
Nowadays I think we are more child focused than before. We try to do so much for our kids. Sometimes to the detriment of our own well being. So even though our kids have so much more and get so much more than we ever did… we are setting them up with high expectations – that it’s easy to get what you want, that you are entitled to a good life. We are also failing to look at ourselves – I was once taught a very important lesson: – that that best way to make sure your children are happy, is to be happy yourself. Show them what it is, be the role model, show them what it looks like, do things that you love doing and teach them happiness is inside them.
Some people may say we are protecting our kids more and more and wrapping them in cotton wool. Allowing them to go through a difficult time and helping them figure out what to do, or what lesson they’ve learnt from it can be very useful for their life skills. Instead a lot of parents jump in to sort it out. Also parenting them through fear – not giving them independence or letting them grow, climb and explore has to be stifling… and adding to their own anxiety. If the first thing we say is ‘don’t do that you’ll… hurt yourself/ its not safe / you’ll have an accident/ you’ll get lost/kidnapped/mollested’ – that is what we are planting in their heads. We live in a huge fear culture … it is fed by the media and social media. (I discussed this more in earlier articles – if you would like to read them click here).
If you suffer from anxiety get help to get on top of it. Many children who come to me for life coaching and are suffering from anxiety, have an anxious parent. We can change this, even if its genetic we can change how we think and improve. First, figure out what exactly you are telling yourself in your head and realize that you can change this inner talk to something more helpful or calming. Guided meditations on you tube are free and a fantastic way to relax and let go. If your child is suffering from anxiety, don’t make this a trigger for your own. Don’t keep on talking to them about their problem, and going over it, trying to ‘help’ them. It usually makes them worse. I’ve learnt this recently from my daughter and her separation anxiety. I realize that I added to it, by all of my constant ‘helping’ – I was keeping it in her head and making her think about it more.
Top Tips for a less stressed family
- Screen time: As parents we have to decide what’s right for our own child or teen, some of the stories are very scary but lets not live in fear. Agree rules and check regularly. What they do online might actually benefit them, give them a skill, or be educational. Social media as we know has to be monitored very closely. The best way for them to spend time is being outside playing with a mixed age of other children.
- Stay close: Talk to your child / teen about what is going on if their life and try to have open discussions about any problems on a regular basis. Also have as many ‘chats’ as you can – there is no agenda, and no pressure, just chit chat. Sometimes we may be surprised about what might be shared.
- Happy: Instead of trying to make your kids happy make yourself happy (it’s a win win situation). I know it sounds selfish, but they learn happiness from you. Look after yourself more if you need to, and learn how to say ‘no’ if you’re a softy like me. We can’t do it all.
- Hold back: Make a conscious effort not to give them everything they want. If they get everything they want and ask for, they’ll have a harder time adjusting, when they realize life is not easy. In the real world we don’t always get what we want. The timing of this couldn’t’ be better with Christmas around the corner. A lot of us overindulge our children, and they don’t even appreciate it. Do what feels right for you and your family.
- Routine: Agree a routine or plan with the family for the busiest times of the day/week, get everyone involved and talking about it. Is the plan realistic? Are you trying to do too much? Make it practical. Practice staying clam, if you can’t, then catch yourself as quickly as you can, after you lose it, and take a few deep breaths. Awareness is the key to getting on top of stressful situations. Tell yourself ‘I can do it’ or whatever feels right.
- Anxiety: If you suffer , work on getting in control of your own anxieties. If you can’t do it for yourself, then do it for your children. Get help if you need to. Show them it can be done. Again, be aware of your inner talk. Don’t pass your anxieties on to your kids. Break the cycle.
- Independence: Teach them to be independent, and to climb, run, have an adventure, do something brave and love life. Instead of looking for what might go wrong, look for the opportunity for them to have fun and learn something. It will help your child be happier and less anxious. Letting go and standing back, allowing your child to go for it, can be hard. Think of your long term job as a parent – to have independent adults. If I had the choice for my kids; I’d rather have an occasional trip to the hospital for a fracture than a life time of anxiety.
Thanks for reading this. I hope it helps; please like, share, tag someone or share your opinion or comment – I’d really appreciate it. If you’d like to sign up for bi-monthly articles to help parents and children please enter your email below.
If you need help with your child or teen please get in touch.
Caoimhe O’Grady Tegart
The Confidence Clinic