The Parent's Role

Besides genetics, life experiences seem to play a part in why a child has an anxiety issue. As a role model for your children, your fears about either your own life, or theirs, will have an effect on your child's confidence and self-esteem. Through their relationship with you, and imitation, your child will make decisions about what life looks like, how she feels about herself in the world, and how capable she believes she is to manage that world. Letting your child see you experience some mild to moderate anxiety and resolving it effectively will be incredibly beneficial. Feelings of fear and anxiety are inevitable, and by watching you, when your child is faced with fear or anxiety, she will know she too can meet difficulties in life head on. However, if your fears for your child seem extreme or unmanageable, your child will perceive her own anxious moments this way as well. The message your child hears is, “I do not trust you to care for yourself or think you will make good decisions, so I must worry,” and the child can then internalize beliefs like “I can't,” or “I shouldn't.”

Essential

Of course you do not want your children put in harm's way. Within reason, though, “Kids need to feel badly sometimes,” says child psychologist David Elkind, a professor at Tufts University. “We learn through experience and we learn through bad experiences. Through failure we learn how to cope.”

Your Choices Can Affect a Child's Anxiety

You are a crucial element in your child's day-to-day functioning, so the choices you make can have a great deal to do with how anxious your child may feel. If you choose to divorce, separate, start a job, move, act abusively, try to be a perfect parent, use substances, or stress performance, you are shaping your child. You are also shaping your child by exercising to keep fit, getting together with friends, taking a class to feed your own soul, or sitting down to relax and read a book for enjoyment. Even the rules you make in the house have the power to create anxiety or reduce it. For example, if the rule is “you must get an A in school because you are smart enough to do it,” or there is a consequence for not making the grade, your child will be anxious about his performance. That might actually decrease your child's ability to concentrate and cause what the child is most afraid of — an inability to remember what he studied, and your disappointment. If the rule is “you must do chores when you get home from school, and then do your homework before you can go out to play,” and your child never finishes before dinner, you will have a frustrated, angry child. Because your child loves you and wants to be seen as good, he may internalize his anger and instead you will see an irritable, anxious, or depressed child.

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