Category Archives: Parenting

4 Ways to Parent an Anxious Child by Promoting Autonomy

Children aren’t the only ones that feel anxious sometimes. All of us have felt worried or apprehensive about something that happened in the past or may happen in the future.

While it’s possible to manage anxiety, or perception that there is a threat, it can never be completely eliminated. Fear is useful and our brain spends a lot of time interpreting information, especially social data, and deciding whether or not there is danger or a threat. But when the fear response gets stuck on and everything is a possible threat, then it really gets in the way of enjoying life.

And when you get anxious, you start to believe you can’t handle anything, because you feel so uncomfortable. When you pick up on your child’s anxiety, it can be really hard to manage your own anxiety too. You may  try to make it all better for them and calm their fears, so you can both feel calmer.

A Therapist’s Experience with Her Own Anxious Child

As a professionally trained helper, I have over-helped, over-communicated, and over-interpreted my oldest daughter’s problems from time to time. The more I talk with her, the better she says she feels to get the problem or worry off her mind. Yet the relief is temporary, because soon she’s back for more relief from mom. I start to notice how unsure and anxious she is getting about the problem over time.

So I try to be present and open to hearing about her challenges, and not tell her how to deal with the problem. Soon she comes up with her own ideas, even if they don’t always work. And she even starts spontaneously talking about what helps her calm herself down, get some sleep, or get focused on anything other than the worry swirling in her head.

4 Ways to Parent Anxious Children By Promoting Autonomy: 

While I don’t think my daughter is anxious all the time, I do think she, like all of us, gets anxious some times. So how do we parent during times when our children are anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed with problems in their life?

  1. Sit by Them – Being present when your child is struggling let’s them know you care without solving it for them. It’s ok to say you can’t solve the problem for them, but you want to hear what they think will help. In doing so, you are relating to their confident part, even if they don’t feel confident yet.
  2. Empathize without Amplify – Convey that you understand that this situation is challenging and hard for them. Try not to take sides or exaggerate the problem by reacting strongly. Leave the problem and emotions in their lap in the most caring, understanding way you can.
  3. Teach Them Thoughts Influence on Emotions – Its how we perceive situations that influence our emotions. Provide resources, such as this book called, Tiger Tiger Is it True by Katie Byron, to introduce the idea that kids can learn to challenge their thoughts and perceptions. Don’t try to be their cognitive therapist, just introduce the idea and see what they think. Again you will be engaging the calmer side of their brain.
  4. Let Them Problem Solve – As hard as it may be to not offer solutions, let your child brainstorm in their own time how to deal with the challenges. The more solutions and fixes you offer, the more unsure, confused, and dependent the child may feel over time.

We want our children to feel like they can deal with challenges and hard things from a young age. Even when we have negative and distressing emotions, we can still use different parts of our brain to deal with the challenges we face.

And the more we can manage our discomfort at seeing one of our children anxious, the more we can be present for them without fixing. In doing so, we promote growth by letting them explore how to calm and deal with challenges they face. Growth comes out of discomfort.

Please share your thoughts or ideas on how to be present for your child without telling them how to handle upsetting emotions or challenges. Or do you have other ways to parent an anxious child that you think promotes growth?

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Schedule a parenting consultation today either face to face or online with Marci. 

Enhance Your Child’s Problem Solving By Helping Less

butterfly wing

A butterfly takes flight for the first time, showing it’s beautiful colors. What would happen if it feared the transformation? Or if a fellow butterfly hindered it’s flight? The butterfly’s wings would freeze or get stuck in it’s cocoon.

As parents, it is hard to see our kids get stuck. We want to see them grow and reach their dreams. And, we would do almost anything to help them reach their goals. So when does helping kids assist their growth and when does it block growth?

Absorb Fear And Block Growth

When my daughter learned to ride her bike. It was a much longer process than I anticipated. Her fear got in the way. She would start peddling, get scared, and stop. For months, I held on to her seat, her arm, or her back until we were both tired of trying.

I almost lost hope. Then, I realized that I needed to let go. I was holding on too tight and hindering her flight. By holding on to her, I was agreeing with her fear, that bike riding is scary.

When I let go, she just did it. She couldn’t believe that she was riding all by herself. To see her do it all by herself was gratifying to both of us. It was a day to celebrate.

Let Go and Allow Growth

What about you? Are there areas you might be holding your child back from growing?

I wasn’t intentionally holding her back. I was trying to be patient, yet was treating her fragile. I had tried talking to her about facing her fears, but it didn’t help. My actions didn’t match my words.

I had to get out of the way, and show her I wasn’t afraid. By letting go, I invited both her triumphs and her falls. I was no longer treating her fragile and hindering her wings from growing.

As parents, we don’t intentionally get in the way of our child’s growth. In fact, it can be really hard to see how we could be interfering with our child’s mastery of a task or conquering a fear.

Markers of Over-Helping

How do you know when your helping is getting in the way of your child’s growth? In theory, the more one thinks they have all the answers, the more the other one has none.

Here are some markers of over-helping:

  • You think you have all the solutions, while your child doesn’t seem to have any solutions.
  • You spend great time and energy trying to solve their problem.
  • You want them to reach the goal more than they want it.
  • You treat your child fragile as if they are broken, lost, or sick.
  • Worry about your child is guiding you more than the facts or your parenting philosophy.

I wanted my daughter to master this new task more than she wanted to. I expected her to master it as fast as I did. I was worried that she would be the only  one on the block her age that couldn’t ride a bike. And, I eventually let her worry convince me that she needed a lot of help.

Manage Your Worry About Child’s Ability to Problem Solve

Once my daughter faced her fear without my interference or over-helping, she smiled so big. She told me, “Now, I believe what is in my heart, instead of what my worry says in my head.” My heart melted as she so eloquently got it.

Not all challenges that kids face are this easy to overcome. As you know, once you learn to ride a bike, you never forget. Yet, most challenges are faced again and again. We have many opportunities to let our child grow and learn.

Whether your child or teen is facing social, academic, financial, or emotional problems, how you manage your own anxiety about their problem solving ability is very important. The more you worry about them failing, the more you will probably try to help them solve it. The more you help, the more they typically won’t help themselves or may withdrawal from you.

So you can’t prevent your child’s failure or struggle, but you can prevent your resentment and withdrawal from them when you can’t fix their problems. Many times the way to enhance your child’s problem solving ability is to help less.

Ways to be there without having all the answers:

  • Ask them what they think will help.
  • Let them try their own solutions without rubbing their nose in it when they don’t succeed.
  • Be emotionally available when they stumble and struggle without having all the answers or fixing the problem for them.
  • Put your worry in a container, so they can find their own way.
  • Share when you observe them mastering a new skill even if it’s sporadic.
  • Believe in their ability to solve their own problems.

Just like our children, we may stumble and slip. But we can re-learn how to let our children face their fears and solve their problems without getting in the way. In doing so, we allow our children’s wings to get stronger and more colorful.

How do you think about your parenting when it comes to your child or teen’s problem? Where do you need to let go and allow growth?

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Marci offers face-to-face counseling services and parent consultation in the Kansas City, MO area. Schedule an appointment today to promote instead of blocking growth in yourself and others. 

Photo Credit: “Broken Butterfly Wing” by Claudio Gennari

 

Becoming Less Allergic to Others’ Negativity

Do you easily absorb others’ negativity? You let it get under your skin or hurt your feelings. Instead of really hearing them, you feel like they are talking about how they feel about you.

For example, when my daughter complains about not wanting to do her chores, my mind makes assumptions. My heart rate quickens as if there is a threat that I need to prepare for. And I tell myself, “She makes everything hard on me. I wish she would treat me as good as she treats her teacher.”If I stay in threat mode, I get hooked into a power struggle, debate, or argument.

Others negativity can be like an allergy, we feel infected by something that isn’t really threatening to us. Instead of letting it infect us, we can change our thinking and emotional response already in progress.

When we perceive others’ negativity less personally, we free ourselves and our loved ones. We are free from being held responsible for others negativity. As a bonus, we are free to connect with others, instead of protecting ourselves.

6 Steps to Managing an Allergy to Negativity:

If you walk around feeling like there are threats to your emotional well-being in each personal encounter, you will live a guarded life. In the long run, you will miss out on opportunities for personal connection.

While our emotions tell us that negativity infects us, how do we let others’ complaints get under our skin less? Here are 6 steps to letting negative emotions stay where they belong (in owners’ skin):

  • Interrupt your own emotional reaction in order to think more clearly
  • Evaluate whether negativity from other is threat to your well-being
  • Choose not to let it get under your skin and cause an “infection”
  • Find another way to think about negativity that is separate from you
  • Let other own their feelings by letting them stew in it
  • Reflect what you observe not what you feel

In my example, I can take deep breaths to help me slow down before I yell at my daughter. This gives me time to see that her complaint is not a threat to my happiness. Thus I don’t have to let it get under my skin as much as it usually does.

When I don’t feel threatened by her complaint, I am able to hear that she doesn’t feel like cleaning right now. Her negativity is less about me or our relationship and more about her. 

I no longer feel like defending myself or making her feel bad. Instead I can reflect my observation and remind her of the choices that are in front of her. (“I know you are tired. You are welcome to watch TV when your room is clean or go to bed early.”)

I would not be able to listen to her in this way if I took her complaint personally. I am able to move on, and she will either take responsibility or stew in her complaints. Either way, our relationship isn’t impacted negatively by her complaining. And I am becoming less allergic to her complaining.

Emotional Separateness Key to Relational Connection

I am convinced that the way to feeling more connected with others is to allow each person to have their own bucket of emotions. That is to separate our emotions as being a reflection of the person that carries them.

By not taking others emotional reactions personally, we are truly able to hear what they are saying. To listen to what they are saying about themselves. And the only way to do this is to get calm enough to hear them without being allergic to their negativity.

How do you get calm enough to keep learning about the important people in your life?

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