Like any good parent I spend a lot of time thinking of everything I did wrong when raising my children. While I say this tongue-in-cheek, I do think it is something lots of parents do, to various degrees. None of us is perfect, and given another chance, many of us would do at least some things differently.
At the top of my list is the fact that I would be more open about my own anxiety in different situations.
Basically, I modeled my parenting in this area after what I knew — my own upbringing. While I was surrounded by loving parents and grandparents as a child, emotions (at least those considered negative) were typically hidden. As we all know, however, children are amazingly perceptive and can often pick up on cues when something is wrong, even when everyone around them is smiling.
I remember one time when I was six, I was home alone with my mom, and she became ill. I called my grandparents, who lived across the street, and they came running over, albeit with great big smiles on their faces. An ambulance was called and they remained upbeat as my mom was carried away on a stretcher. Aside from being frightened, I was also confused. Did they not love my mother? Were they actually happy she was sick? Anxiety must be a bad thing if they were obviously covering up their own feelings. Thankfully my mom was okay, but stressful and anxiety-provoking situations continued to be unaddressed throughout my childhood.
I vowed to do better with my own children, and I did, to an extent. Like most families, we’ve been faced with many types of challenges throughout the years, and I’ve always tried to be open with my children about my feelings, while encouraging them to share their own emotions.
But is that enough?
Anxiety-provoking situations can be important teachable moments. I believe I should have let my children know that feeling anxious can be a good thing. Our fight-or-flight response can literally save our lives if our perceived fears are justified. If a wild animal is charging us, we want to feel anxious so we can respond appropriately.
I also should have told them the bravest thing we can do when feeling anxious about something is to continue on as they would if they weren’t feeling anxious. I should have told them anxiety is not dangerous, even though it might feel like it. And I also should have told them that sometimes, for absolutely no reason at all, anxiety might decide to pop in – their fight-or-flight response can go awry.
Once again, the best thing to do is to acknowledge how you are feeling, and then plow through anyway. I should have told my children that, anxiety or not, they should always strive to live the lives they want and deserve, and always stay true to their values.
Of course, it’s never too late. My children are grown now, and at this point, we’ve had all of these conversations. But it’s never too early to discuss anxiety, at an age-appropriate level, of course.
As parents, perhaps the best thing we can do for our children is to model the appropriate behavior. And when it comes to anxiety, some conversations wouldn’t hurt either.