How to Stop Your Anxiety Before it Affects Your Kids

forest girl  anxiety
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I don't watch the news much these days. I love listening to NPR, and I see the CNN alerts pop up on my phone, so I know when to tune in for the good and the bad, but I don't make a daily habit of sitting down to catch up on the stories of the day as my parents did when I was a kid. To be perfectly honest, I find it a bit overwhelming. anxiety

As I much as I like to know what's happening in the world, hearing about every break-in, drug deal gone wrong, and fire (accidental or not) makes the world feel unsafe to live in. Hyper-focusing on every story that hits the news triggers the panic button. How can we ever feel safe and secure with so many bad things happening around us?

I know a mom who gets alerts sent to her phone for all local police activity and all earthquakes in the state of California. While I understand that knowledge is power in some cases, I see a mom worrying about everything that can possibly go wrong. Sometimes a little ignorance really can be bliss.

The truth is that anxiety and fear have a trickle-down effect in families. If you live in a state of fear about the potential for danger that might impact your family, your kids will pick up on it and react accordingly. In fact, a recent study showed that children pick up on parental anxiety either by observing anxious behaviors or by parents unnecessarily shielding children from perceived dangers.

There is some good news, though. Researchers explained that parents can break the cycle by working through their own worries and providing opportunities for children to take developmentally appropriate risks.

How to Stop Your anxiety Before it Makes Your Kid Anxious
Graphic created by Jace Whatcott

Know your triggers.

The first step to working through your own anxiety is to know your triggers. We all have some anxiety — that's normal. The worry center in our brain sends alerts when we need to deal with something dangerous. Without it, we wouldn't run from a car driving straight toward us or cover our faces when a ball comes flying at us. In anxious people, the worry center tends to send out some false alarms.

Identifying your triggers and tracking how often you experience them helps you gain control over them. Keep a trigger tracker journal to note feelings of anxiety and/or panic; what's happening when you experience those feelings; and what happened just prior to the anxious event.

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If sirens make you anxious because you're all about the safety of your kids at school, for example, you can learn to use relaxation strategies when triggers occur.

{ MORE: What To Do if Your Kid is Petrified of Halloween }

How to Stop Your anxiety Before it Makes Your Kid Anxious
Graphic created by Jace Whatcott

Learn to cope.

If anxiety interferes with your ability to do the things you normally do (parenting, work, sleeping, eating, exercising, etc.), you should seek an evaluation from a licensed mental health practitioner. Anxiety has a way of snowballing, and it can be very difficult to care for others when you're in a constant state of worry. Take care of you.

If your anxiety is mild and specific to certain triggers, try a few relaxation techniques.

  • Breathe: Relaxation breathing (in for a count of four, hold for four, release for four) is the best way to counter that initial feeling of anxiety or panic that takes hold. It calms your heart rate and helps you focus. Practice daily for best results when anxiety does strike.
  • Boss back: When you're calm, make a list of the triggers that set you off (e.g., there could be a school shooting) and create counter statements for each anxious thought (e.g., my child's school has a good safety plan in place). Practice responding to intrusive (anxious) thoughts with positive thoughts. When anxious thoughts emerge, boss them back with your positive statements.
  • Practice mindfulness: Being aware of your surroundings and focusing on the here and now helps decrease feelings of anxiety. Answer these three questions: What can I see? What can I feel? What can I hear? A great way to involve kids in this practice is to get some apples and talk through those questions as you eat an apple mindfully. Sounds silly, I know, but it's a great lesson in slowing down.
How to Stop Your anxiety Before it Makes Your Kid Anxious
Graphic created by Jace Whatcott

Talk about it.

Parents have a tendency to hide things from their kids in attempt to protect them. Anxiety has a way of permeating the whole family, even when you think you're hiding it. Kids pick up on stress, and they know when something isn't right.

Explain it. Say something like this: “Sometimes my worry center gets a little too excited, and I feel worried when I don't need to. I'm working on learning to calm down when I feel worried. We can practice deep breathing together!”

{ MORE: Do You Let Your Kids Wear What They Want to Wear? }

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How to Stop Your anxiety Before it Makes Your Kid Anxious
Graphic created by Jace Whatcott

Take healthy risks.

Shielding your kids from everything sends the message that the world is a scary and dangerous place. Kids who live in fear have difficulty going to school, concentrating in school, and making friends.

Make a list of fun family activities that include healthy risk taking. Try a nature walk with tree climbing (remember to practice mindfulness when out in nature!), learn something new as a family (roller skating is fun!), or spend time focusing on the positive.

Sure, the world can feel dark and scary at times, but it's more important to show our children that there is more light than darkness in this world. And that begins with coping with our fears and enjoying the wonderful things available to us at any given time.

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How to Stop Your Anxiety Before it Affects Your Kids

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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