Want to be a good parent to your anxious child? Cut yourself some serious slack
In the sixth part of a new series, Clinical Psychologist and Parent Guide, Dr Julie Meehan explains why cutting yourself some slack will help both you and your child feel calmer and more at ease.
In this series, I am on a mission to support parents to deconstruct the pervasive powers of anxiety one step at a time.
Whilst doing my best to make the steps as simple, as accessible and as resonant for you as possible, I need to call myself out. Here’s why. I received the following text from a friend recently:
“Dear Julie, I have to bother you with my thought for the day after yet another exhausting conversation trying to reassure my anxious daughter. I have read countless articles and listened to countless podcasts on ‘parenting an anxious child’, including all the CAMHS ones (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service). Not ONE mentions how exhausting it is or how to resource yourself as their parent. They all say that we have to remain calm and solid and reassuring and compassionate… well most of the time I feel impatient and exhausted because it is SO tiring.”
My friend’s words went straight to the heart and the gut.
Truth does that.
The Parent onus
Now, whilst the research does show that supporting parents to support their children with anxiety is indeed effective, I hear myself saying – to borrow an Americanism – enough already with the endless onus on the parent!
The onus message usually goes something like this: as well as providing shelter, nutrition, safety, endless love, wisdom, education, advanced solutions to problems, packed lunches, awesome birthday parties and online streaming services on tap, whatever you do, don’t forget to be a Zen Master or Yogini all of the time and in every circumstance.
And whilst I continuously point parents back to how to resource themselves, the truth is that resourcing ourselves can just feel like another tonne weight added onto the invisible mountain of strain and stress that you are already carrying.
Speaking of friends and Americanisms, I have an American friend with whom I shared a stressful piece of news recently.
His response says it all. He said, “Julie, that sucks. That really, really sucks.”
And boy did I feel validated and heard by him.
So, I am now borrowing his words to respond to my texter friend, to all of you and to myself; parenting a child who experiences anxiety can suck.
It can really, really suck.
It’s exhausting. It’s draining. It can be repetitive and circular. It can be infuriating, guilt-inducing, intensely lonely and cruelly invalidating.
So, this week’s strategy is simple. No theory, no science (well, only a little), just straight talking.
Cut yourself some serious slack
I am here to say to you that you are doing your best in the most difficult role that a human can take on. Cut yourself some slack.
I hear you and see you.
I hear and see my beautiful friend who is doing her very, very best to meet the needs of her daughter.
I hear and see myself because anxiety is no stranger to my house either. There is no free pass for psychologists, believe me.
You may remember from strategy #2 , that when we name our emotions, it helps to regulate our nervous systems. When we support our children to name their emotions they can feel more centred and validated. And they can then learn to recognise these feelings in themselves.
Well, strategy #6 is your version of to Name it is to Tame it.
I am here to name your difficulties for you. But if you can name them for yourself, even better.
And while we are at it, can we name them together? Parents supporting parents?
We know that connection calms.
Even if you are on your own, and it doesn’t feel like there is anyone who understands how difficult your experience is, or it feels like people don’t care. Know this: I understand, I care. My friend understands, she cares. And you can be sure that there are a truckload of other parents and carers who get it.
Because they know how much it can really, really suck.
Give it a go
Receive my words of validation: I know how hard it is. I have met countless parents who have told me so. I know personally what it is like. I am validating you.
Name it for yourself: Say the words to yourself. Whisper them. Say them out load. Scream them if you need to. I am doing my best. This sucks. This is so hard. But, I am doing my best. I’m cutting myself some slack. The onus is not just on me. Whatever words work for you.
Share: If it feels safe, can you share how difficult having anxiety in your house is with someone? Someone you sense may understand; someone whom you sense may be experiencing something similar? Naming it may give permission for others to name their experience too.
Community: What would it be like if our communities really embraced naming how hard anxiety is? Let’s be honest, anxiety is pervasive. It’s everywhere.
Can we unmask anxiety, as a community, as a society working together? It’s not going to go away unless we acknowledge that it happens to everyone, and we all need to support one another.
Can we encourage our schools, our community leaders, our politicians to start talking about this more? Like, really, sincerely talking about it – no empty tokenism, please. Anxiety is hard on everyone. But when we connect, we all feel more supported, we feel more regulated.
And from there, more creative solutions may appear, with the strength of a connected community of honest parents just doing our best to support each other.
© Julie Meehan, 2022
Dr Julie Meehan is a Clinical Psychologist, Parent Guide and (Imperfect) Parent.
Dr Julie has developed an evidence-based, step-by-step pathway for parents to follow. Guiding you in creating more connected and trusting relationships both with yourself and your children, this method will help you to meet, grow and thrive from life’s challenges.