Many children experience anxiety from time to time
In fact, there is evidence to suggest that the number of children with anxiety disorders continues to increase over time, as well as the intensity of anxiety symptoms.
Many things contribute to the stress children experience today. Our culture demands more time and energy from both children and parents. Schools today demand stronger performance from children, both academically and behaviorally, with fewer and fewer resources. Children today are exposed to more violence, more global unrest, and more media exposure than ever before.
Another factor that contributes to the stress children experience is parental anxiety
Anxiety tends to run in families, and is believed to have biological and genetic links. Although numerous studies have supported the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy, some studies have found that untreated parental anxiety decreases the likelihood that children will experience long-term success from their therapy experience.
Specifically, a study by Hudson et al (2014) in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology found that although cognitive behavioral therapy helped all children, children whose parents were less anxious had greater success long-term following treatment. In addition, parents who had high levels of anxiety symptoms had children with more anxiety symptoms, even after treatment had been completed.
What can parents of anxious children do?
If you notice that your child is stressed, take inventory of your own anxiety. For many adults, anxiety can become a part of life. Adults can get used to feeling stressed, overdone, or tired. We can learn to tune out our feelings, and push through our day. So take a few moments, take a few deep breaths, and ask yourself, “From 1-10, how stressed am I?” If you notice that you are over a 5 for a few days in a row, it is time to pay attention.
If you are thinking of bringing your child in for therapy or medication for anxiety, you may also consider a mental health check-up yourself
Parenting a child with anxiety can be difficult. Although you always love your child, their needs and emotional intensity of children with anxiety are often quite challenging for caregivers. You can ask your child’s therapist for a referral to a qualified and skilled psychotherapist, ask your family physician, or call your insurance.
It will be important to learn and use self-care regularly
Learn the skills your child is learning in his therapy. Practice them yourself. By modeling these skills, your child will likely feel less alone. He will learn that self-care is important for everyone. He will learn how to integrate anxiety skills into his life, rather than just practice them in his therapy session. It will also help you have more energy and patience for your child. You will have first-hand knowledge of how hard it is to learn new ways of thinking, feeling and responding, as well as how helpful these skills can be.
Let go of the guilt
Many parents feel guilty if their child is anxious. They may feel like it is something they did. They may feel like it was their genetics which caused their child’s concerns. Because of that, they avoid thinking about their own worries or addressing them. Let it go. Anxiety is a complicated disorder, with many contributions to its onset. What matters most is helping you and your child get to a place where you are happy and can live the lives to your fullest potential.
- Hudson et al (2014). The Impact of Brief Parental Anxiety Management on Child Anxiety Treatment Outcomes: A Controlled Trial. Journal Of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 43 (3). 370-380.
- Cobham, V.E., Dadds, M.R., & Spence, S.H. (1998) The role of parental anxiety in the treatment of child anxiety. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66, 893-905.