How anxiety arises:
One of the most important things we can learn as parents is to master our own stress and anxiety. Children pick up easily on our anxieties and insecurities. Having no rational explanations for the way we’re conducting ourselves around them will leave them confused and stressed.
But, anxiety seems to be a main stay of parenting adolescents. First learn how anxiety arises.
Being mindful about our anxiety:
Lets start with a simple exercise. Sit down and start working on your breath. Slowly and intentionally.
I will play this sound bite now: Whether we like it or not, once a parent, we’re parents for life.
Now that the word parent has come up, along with it comes up the concerns and anxieties you’ve around your own style of parenting. Just hold onto those feelings. Don’t forget breathing. You don’t have to over think your concerns, you don’t have to think about solving them. You don’t need to resolve them. You don’t need to push them away. Just accept them.
Accepting Growing Pains:
First, we need to understand that the ambiguity and uncertainty we feel is not a reflection of our parenting style. Its not a reflection of our parenting ability or competence. Also, its important to remember that stress and anxiety are also not related to the abilities and competencies of your child as a good student, or a daughter or son.
Its a normal part of growth. Its a normal part of changes that we experience as we evolve each day.
Also, there’s no such thing as a perfect parent. There’s no such thing as a perfect child. There’s no such thing as a perfect family. There’s no such thing as a healthy person, a healthy adult, healthy child, or a healthy family.
We’re all at different stages of our growth, we’re all work in progress. Because of which we don’t have to judge ourselves so critically. Just accept growth and change as a part of life. Now work towards removing the anxiety feeling which you experience while looking at your child. Just see him for who he or she is.
External and Internal Locus of Control:
Now we understand that we didn’t get rid of anxiety, we just found a way to manage it. We have understood that change is part of normal growth for us parents and children. Once we accept this, we shift the locus of control.
- External Locus of Control:
A lot of what we feel and value is determined by things that are happening in our lives. It might depend on how your partner is treating you, or how your child is performing, or the difficulties that they are experiencing, or your job that’s overwhelming you. You might be anxious about how others might judge you.
When you allow this to happen, things can feel a lot out of control, because we can’t control how others think and feel about us. That’s having the locus of control that’s outside which leads to the feelings of overwhelm.
- Internal Locus of Control:
If we decide how we want to feel about our emotions and anxieties, we start to feel a lot more in control. How we feel and perceive us has very much to do with what we feel about us from the inside. And this is something very much under our control.
If you have a locus of control that’s internal to you, you start deciding how you will experience all these things that are happening to you. And this gives us a sense of empowerment.
Shifting the Locus of Control:
Taking back control of the locus begins with understanding that what we’re dealing with right now, might not matter 2 years from now, 2 months from now, or 2 minutes from now. We take back control by choosing how to respond to the situation. And that’s a more powerful way of living life than feeling helpless and overwhelmed.
- Take stock of your own emotions before you can figure out what’s going on with your child.
- Understand the impact of your choices of you make.
- Understand your feelings and reactions to situations.
- Understand how your emotions and actions are affecting your child.
- Understand that in the end, we can’t control how our spouse or child behaves.
Building an Internal Locus of Control
After shifting the control from external to internal, we can start strengthening our internal Locus of Control by following a few practices.
- Understanding the symptoms of anxiety in the child: Nervousness, no sleep, no focus, racing heart etc.
- But managing symptoms is a short term thing, if we don’t determine the root cause of our or our children’s anxiety.
- The most important thing we can do is to understand the things that we can and can’t control.
- We must understand that anxiety and worry comes from the sense of powerlessness we feel about the things that we can’t control and make any better.
- We must then learn to live with what you cannot control.
- Example 1: I can help my child prepare for the exam, but in the end, can’t control how well he or she performs.
- Example 2: I can help my child with his college application, but I cannot control what the outcome will be from those colleges.
- Example 3: I can talk to my child about relationships, but I can’t control the relationship choices he or she will make.
- Now we can focus on the things that we can control and learn how to effectively resolve them.
Handling negative emotions about things we can’t control:
Its very easy to say forget about all the things you can’t control. But we can’t do that. If your child is a new driver, you can’t help but worry about how he or she will do with all these maniac drivers plying the roads.
We need to learn ways to deal with those anxieties. And it starts with acceptance. It starts with us recognizing those negative thought patterns, as they come. They might be irrational and unnatural, but begin with acceptance.
Rational Emotive Behavioral Theory (REBT) by Albert Ellis has some coping mechanisms.
- Look at the Activating event first. Lets say you’re worried about a relationship choice that your child has made.
- List out the emotions and feelings you have related to those thoughts. For example, My child may be making choice, my child might get hurt, it might not be a healthy relationship for my child and so on.
- List out the consequences of your thoughts. You’re anxious, you’re stressed. My relationship with my child is being impacted. My child thinks I don’t trust them.
- Think about the rational evidence to support these irrational thoughts. List them out.
- Notice how your negative thoughts keep churning and churning until they start to overwhelm you.
- So start off by acknowledging your rational beliefs one by one to counter the avalanche of negative emotion coming at you. Tell yourself positive things.
- Example 1: He’s having this relationship because its part of his changing choices and his normal growth pattern.
- Example 2: I’ve tried having a conversation with him, and I’ve a sense that maybe he will understand my point of view.
- Example 3: Well, in the end, my child might end up making a bad choice, but I’m there for him to support him.
- Try slowly managing and identifying effective behaviors and conversations that actually work.
Managing Anxiety and Undying Love for your child:
We often mistake our anxieties and worries as a demonstration of our love for our children. We easily get into arguments with them arguing that we’re doing what we’re doing for their own wellbeing. But here are some facts around anxiety and love.
- Anxiety vs. Love: We have love for our children. That love is theirs. We have anxiety about our children. That anxiety is ours. We need to separate both of them. We need to understand that our anxieties are our responses to the choices we see them making. Love is not a choice, but anxiety is.
- Taking ownership of our anxiety: Children asked for your love, not your anxiety. So, we need to own our anxieties and worries. We need to change how we respond.
- Containing anxiety: We need to find ways to deal with our anxieties. And find coping mechanisms.
- Reevaluating boundaries: We need to look at our personal and relationship boundaries. And be flexible enough to respond to the situation as seems fit.
- Learning coping mechanisms: Understand which of the below coping mechanisms works best for you.
Family Systems Theory by Dr. Murray Bowen:
Dr. Bowen proposed that we all function as a dynamics of family unit and not as individuals when dealing with our emotions and anxieties. Here are the different ways we cope with stress:
- We indulge in conflict: We yell out. We fight each other in shouting matches.
- We distance ourselves: We won’t deal with it, we’ll assume everyone will eventually get over it. We suppress our feelings until we pass through the storm. But its bad and we end up breaking relationships.
- We bring in a 3rd party: We bring a family member or friend to help resolve our situation. We have affairs, we abuse substances or start exercising excessively to deflect ourselves from the problem.
- We succumb to it: We exhibit physical symptoms like headaches, depression that are just expressions of our internal stressors.
Empowering ourselves to overcome anxiety:
- Get a perspective. Everyone thinks their problems are the end of the world.
- Recognize your strengths and weaknesses. First self evaluate.
- Evaluate what you want for your child vs. what’s best for your child.
- Identify priorities about what battles you want to pick with them.
- Think long term benefits even if it means short term blindness towards their minor infractions. Think big picture.
- Reach out to others who’re in the same boat.
- Have faith in the fact that it will all work out in the end. Don’t you think you turned out just fine?!
- Encourage a partnership with your child to work towards his or her own future.
Major Take away:
American parenting is into affirmations and providing nurture for all the things right about their child. Asian parenting tends to focus heavily on what areas need improvement. But, in the end, we all want what’s best for our child wellbeing and optimal growth in all facets of life. After all, we’ve survived our own imperfect childhood, so lets believe our children will too.
Let’s support them with a balance of two schools of thought:
- Pull them up for their strengths.
- Support and be there for them for their weaknesses.
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