I guess I’m writing this because I’ve seen many articles about raising kids with anxiety, but I don’t think I’ve ever read one about trying to raise your kid to not inherit your anxiety. In fact, it’s not something I hear spoken about much at all.
The number one reason I finally sought medical attention after an entire lifetime of struggling, was the fear that I’d teach my son that a violent temper and a soul crushing fear of everything was the normal way to live. Like all parents, I have a laundry list of things I want for my son to grow up to be. More than anything, I want my son to not grow up to be me. I realize that sounds awful. That’s not really how I mean it. There are plenty of characteristics of mine that I try to pass on to my son on a daily basis, and I have plenty of self worth. But you have to understand, I wouldn’t wish this condition on anyone. No, it’s not the worst thing that could possibly happen to him. But it would still really suck to watch my kid sick to his stomach with fear so subconsciously rooted that he’s not even sure why he’s upset. Or have a two hour long full blown melt down over the bump in his sock bothering him so much that he wants to put his fist through a wall (all at the ripe old age of 6). Or hear him say that he just wants to sleep and not wake up for a month.
So here it is…
My completely uneducated opinion on how to help my son combat the “nurture” side of inherited anxiety.
To start, I suppose I’ll discuss the most obvious suggestion of them all. Don’t let your kid see you sweat. You know how people always say that you (the parent) shouldn’t freak out when your baby falls down and bumps their head because (if they aren’t badly hurt) they’ll be fine until they realize that your upset? Often times this reigns very true. It’s also true when it comes to passing on your fears to your kid. It’s not going to be easy, but you really have to try to not let on when things make you irrationally nervous. Of course there are situations in which you want your kids to know that there is a real concern with what they’re doing. Less kids would never learn that it’s dangerous to walk in to oncoming traffic without…you know…actually walking in to oncoming traffic. But does my kid need to think that standing on a subway platform equals imminent death? No. No he does not.
The second, and (I think) equally important, thing to keep in mind is going to seemingly contradict the above advice I just shared with you. Your kid needs to know that it’s OK to be scared. Just as much as I want my soon to be rough and plucky in the throws of life, I also want him to know that it’s ok to be afraid. Sometimes, you’re going to have to do scary things. And for that reason, I sometimes make a point of letting him see that I’m not miserably happy about what I’m about to encounter, and then let him watch me do it anyway. Because as a smart man once said, “Courage is the resistance of fear, the mastery of fear, not the absence of fear.” Sometimes life is scary, and your only option is to press forward and kick it’s ass.
Finally, though this advice should be taken on a case by case (and child by child) basis, Turn scary situations in to interesting situations. You may, or may not, know that one of the behavioral treatments for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is something called exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is defined as a technique in behavior therapy intended to treat anxiety disorders by exposing the patient to the feared object without any danger to help the patient overcome their anxiety. It’s also often used to help OCD sufferers control their compulsive behavior by exposing them to a fear, and not letting them complete the compulsive behavior that makes them feel better. Now that my son is a bit older, I’ve started to use some of these techniques (in a mild kid friendly way) to help him find “scary” situations interesting, and “not a big deal”. Upon the impending four year shots that my son was about to get, I decided to be honest with him. I explained to him that he would need a couple of shots at his doctor’s appointment, I explained why people get vaccinations, how you get a shot, and that yes, it will pinch a bit, but then it will be over and you’ll live to see another day. For about a week I answered any questions he had about it (mostly the same three questions over and over again because, well, he’s four) with the complete and honest truth, but in a no-big-deal, matter of fact tone. Upon entering the lab and waiting for his shots, I explained all of the “cool” things he saw in the lab. The stretcher, the refrigerators full of blood samples, the empty syringes, etc. (“It’s cool! It’s interesting! Ah, the wonders of modern medicine! See? We’re having a great time in here!”). A few weeks later when he walked in on me watching a video of someone botching a blood draw, and asked why the guys arm was covered in blood, I explained to him what was going on, and even let him watch a how to video on Youtube about properly starting an IV. We talk about all sorts of things presumably scary… large spiders, being alone in the dark, etc. (All thing Mommy coincidentally hates…), and I do my best to make it a learning experience in hopes that he’ll learn to understand the difference between caution and irrational fear.
Can I say for sure that all of this will make an ultimate difference? After all, it’s commonly believed that anxiety disorders are genetic…
Fact is, I don’t. But at least I’ll know I did my best, and at least I’ll know I raised a fighter.
Comment below with your best advice for parenting with a mental illness, raising a kid with a mental illness, or even just to commiserate. I’d love to hear it.
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