How to Keep Your Anxiety from Affecting Your Children

May 25, 2020
When parents are feeling anxious, their children may also experience intense emotions without understanding exactly what's happening. Today, we'll talk about how to keep your anxiety from affecting your children.

Children imitate what they see in their parents… our gestures, our words, and the things we do. If you yell, your kids will yell. If you read, they’ll read. And if you’re anxious, they’ll feel that anxiety as well and act according to those feelings. This is true even if they don’t really understand what’s going on or why you’re anxious. In this article, we’ll help you keep your anxiety from affecting your children.

Children can tell when their parents are anxious

It’s normal for children to detect their parents’ anxiety and imitate it. Children are very in sync with their parents’ stress levels and are more prone to suffering passive stress than we often realize. Their brains are still developing and they’re very sensitive to environmental stressors – including their parents’ behavior.

In fact, studies have demonstrated that, even when children aren’t experiencing a stressful situation first hand, they feed off of their parents’ energy. And the more anxious that parents are feeling, the greater the stress and anxiety levels will be in their children. In other words, it’s very easy to pass on your anxiety to your children without even realizing it.

Our children’s brains are like sponges. They admire us, model our behavior, and obtain clues about their own security according to our own behavior and the things we say.

When your children sense that you’re worried or anxious, they start to feel insecure about the world. In the same way, when parents model healthy ways of handling intense emotions, they can teach their children that they don’t need to be fearful of anxiety. Rather, they can look it in the face and resolve it.

How to Keep Your Anxiety from Affecting Your Children

Don’t let your anxiety affect your children: Learn to face your fears

So, what can you do the next time you start to feel anxious? First, recognize and accept your feelings. Don’t try to fight against them or ignore them. Doing so tends only to exacerbate symptoms and make your anxiety even worse. Remember that anxiety is just a feeling, just like any other.

Rather than trying to escape from your anxiety, learn to face your fears and overcome them. The best way to face anxiety is to stare it in the face. Anxiety is a learned behavior that you can also unlearn by putting yourself in touch with your fear over and over again until it disappears.

Don’t let your anxiety affect your children: Question your anxiety

Be realistic about your anxiety. Ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen? Is it likely to occur? This helps you challenge your thoughts and realize how unrealistic and improbable your worries are. At the same time, it’s important to find a technique that helps you face what’s going on. For example:

  • Breathe: Deep breathing exercises are a good strategy to help reduce anxiety levels. Activate your body’s relaxation response. Try to inhale while counting to 4 and then count to 4 again as you slowly exhale. Then, repeat several times.
  • Find a safe place for yourself. Many people also find it helpful to stop what they’re doing and go to a calm spot. A few minutes of silence with your thoughts can help you reboot.
  • Look for a distraction: When you’re feeling anxious, your brain speeds up and your thoughts start to accelerate. It’s important to get out of your head and slow your thoughts down. You can carry out certain activities that will distract your mind and involve the logical side of your brain. For example, listen to a podcast, count numbers, or tell a story.
How to Keep Your Anxiety from Affecting Your Children

  • Look for activities that are oriented around objectives. If you have enough time, focus your attention on a meaningful and goal-oriented activity. This can be something as simple as washing your clothes, going to the movie theater, and taking your dog for a walk.

Talk to your children about what’s going on and what you’re experiencing

If you lose control and start to stress out in front of your children, talk to them about your feelings. Show them that feeling anxious is common and, what’s more, it’s something that you can deal with.

Let your children witness you facing your anxiety and practicing strategies to deal with it. That way, they’ll be more likely to model these same positive behaviors.

This teaches them that it’s okay to feel anxious and that they can manage the situation. As a result, they’ll feel more comfortable and secure to explore and play in the world around them.

Raising children has a great deal to do with teaching them how to handle things they can’t see. Show them that facing irrational fears and overcoming them is better than expressing them or trying to escape.