Parental Anxiety Hurts Children’s Self-Esteem

Parental Anxiety Hurts Children’s Self-Esteem

What we fear we create

Parental anxiety impacts children’s self-esteem and confidence in a detrimental manner. “What we resist persists”. What exactly does this adage mean? Well, the more we fear something, the more we want it to go away. At the same time, that which we fear seems to become ever more present in our lives, with more and more situations arising to confirm our distorted perceptions around that fear.

Another way of understanding this is through the well-known expression “the self-fulfilling prophecy”. It states that we humans tend to look for evidence that will confirm our beliefs. Rare is it, unless we are on the path of developing our consciousness, that we will look for evidence to disprove our beliefs or perceptions. Instead, we solidify and perpetuate those which we already hold.   Ultimately, our reality is based on our beliefs.

Parental anxiety directly influences a child’s anxiety

And now to my next point and the topic of this post: how parental anxiety has a direct impact on a child’s self-esteem. If we adults suffer from anxiety, our parenting style will be significantly affected. Although there is no such thing as an anxiety gene or one single cause to explain anxiety in children, some children are born with particular vulnerabilities that predispose them to develop it. You might notice traits in your child such as sensitivity, fearfulness, and being high-strung. As children grow into adolescents, they might outgrow specific fears. However, their anxiety does not disappear; instead, it metamorphoses into overwhelming worry, always anticipating the worse case scenario. Anxiety expert Reid Wilson asserts that “untreated anxiety in childhood is one of the strongest predictors of later depression” (Wilson & Lyons, 2013, see Resource section at the end of this post).

If you have an anxious child, aside from his temperamental predispositions, there is also the likelihood that at least one of the parents is anxious, also born with the temperament I have just described above. Please do not be dismayed over this; however – it doesn’t mean your child is doomed because he also carries these vulnerabilities. There are ways you can intervene to prevent your child from developing anxiety.

It is a normal part of life to face challenges, which allow us to grow. Parents today appear more anxious than ever before, hovering over their kids and overprotecting them at an alarming rate. Even schools have followed suit by significantly restricting activities on the playground in the name of safety!

The creation of the anxious child

This kind of parenting has created an epidemic of entitled, insecure, fearful, and anxious children.  These children are afraid of taking risks, trying new things, and of not being the best. They’re incapable of tolerating difficult emotions or rejection, constantly complain about things being unfair, are unable to take “no” for an answer, and inept at handling constructive criticism. Parents, in turn, are exhausted from catering to their children’s fears, which ironically, they themselves, have created or reinforced.  It becomes an endless vicious cycle.

Parents’ inability to face their own emotions of fear or guilt around their children, tend to chase those strong feelings away by hovering over their children in so many different ways. And herein lies the problem.  We can’t control the internal or external events that occur in our children’s lives. What we do have control over is how we respond to those events. Our reactions are an important factor in determining how our children will learn to cope with those events. Because our children look up to us for guidance, if we panic, they become scared. If we act as if they can’t handle a situation or emotion, they won’t think they can handle it either, and they, too, will panic. If we stay calm, we send our children the message that there is no need to worry and that we trust that they can handle it. It’s easier to coach them when both of us aren’t in a state of panic.

Until our children grow fully into who they are meant to be, we are their compasses, their radars, and their guides. They will internalize our reactions, and later in life, our voice, words, and responses become their inner voice, woven into who they are, who they become, and shaping them. It is a huge responsibility that we hold in our hands:  We should never underestimate the power and influence we have over who our children grow up to be.

Anxious kids become anxious grown-ups

Too often, I see grown men and women in my office working so hard to quiet that anxious voice in their heads –  a critical voice, a fearful voice, a guilt-ridden voice,  that loudly echoes that of their own parents’ and causes them great suffering. They have to work hard in therapy to eliminate this voice, so they can finally stop carrying the shackles of their parents’ fears and live the lives that they were meant to live. Ah, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to bypass this step altogether and focus on prevention instead?

Fear is normal: embrace it

From the moment children are born, we learn that for them to grow we need to let go, little by little. With the process of letting go comes fear – because let’s face it danger and uncertainty are omnipresent, they’re a fact of life. Inevitably, we will be faced with fear on multiple occasions throughout our lifespan. But fear is a normal human emotion designed to protect us, to some degree; it often needs to be faced and conquered, not avoided.  Fear that gets blown out of proportion, however, can become anxiety. As parents, we must learn to effectively manage and cope with our fears, so we can teach and model to our children how to do the same.

Children learn to cope with fear and anxiety through imitation and by experiencing life, not by avoiding it or being lectured about it. It is our responsibility as parents to get a handle on our anxiety, rather than being frozen by it. Sitting with the discomfort, and knowing that it will pass is a much more favourable response. Hovering over our children is a selfish action hidden under the guise that we do it to protect them and because we love them. In reality, we do it for ourselves. Meanwhile, our actions eat away at our children’s self-confidence and hinder their ability to become resilient.

Young children experience emotions intensely, and they are not yet equipped to manage or regulate them. Nonetheless, many adults have unrealistic expectations for young children in this regard. Emotional management is a long process that does not reach maturity until young adulthood!

Whether a child is feeling excitement, joy, fear, sadness, anger, frustration, or what have you, many parents don’t know how to cope with or navigate through the intensity of his/her emotions. The child’s emotional response triggers the parent’s anxiety, and the distress is perceived as being much worse than it really is.  Parents end up trying to use any possible means to avoid the situation altogether, or to shut it down as soon as possible!. They believe that what they’re doing is not only easier, but best, for everyone.

Parents, heal thyself

It is our own fear or anxiety about our children’s intense emotions that we need to address and work through, not theirs to be corrected, dismissed, minimized or shut down. That which is really at play during those intense emotional moments is our sense of incompetence in knowing how to deal with these intense little beings; it speaks more of us than of them. We must remember that emotions, just like thoughts, are not “right” or “wrong,” they just are, and they will pass, just like waves.

Our minds, or “egos,”  may sometimes try to convince us that something is wrong with our child or with us – and we find ourselves lost in the inner dialogue of finding blame or fault with what just is. But this mental path only leads to more fear and more darkness. And instead of shining light thereupon, we turn and run as fast as we can in an attempt to make the fear and anxiety go away.  All the while, our children are watching us… and learning.

How anxiety is perpetuated

The perfect recipe for maintaining anxiety or fear comes through using avoidance, whether it’s avoidance of emotion, a state, a situation, a thing, thought, or person. Avoidance is very effective at reducing that gnawing feeling in our gut –  for it works like this:  we feel bad, we avoid that which makes us feel bad, and then we feel better. Pavlov called this process “positive reinforcement,” which is a form of conditioning. Thus anxiety is born and maintained. Which is also why we have an epidemic of anxious children, as well as an epidemic of anxious parents, also commonly referred to as “helicopter parents”.

Another culprit in maintaining anxiety is the use of reassurance. Anxious children and parents continuously seek reassurance. It works for them in the short-term to reduce anxiety, but once a new situation arises, they’re back at square one feeling terrible. Reassurance does not teach a child to cope with anxiety. It works just like avoidance: the child is anxious or scared, we reassure the child, the anxiety diminishes, and the child feels better. We just reinforced reassurance as a method for reducing anxiety. It has taught the child to depend on an external factor to self-soothe. Reassurance works best when it is generated from within, not from an external source. The key is to teach the child to reassure himself instead of always having to lean on the parent.

If we can’t overcome our anxiety or worries on our own, we need to seek professional help for ourselves before we invest in our child’s therapy. We cannot teach what we do not know.  If our responses to stressors remain fear-driven, our coping and parenting skills will be maladapted. Moreover, whatever our child learns in therapy will collide with what we model, possibly even contradict what he learned, leaving our child even more confused and distressed.

Parental fear impacts children’s self-esteem

Living in fear will erode our children’s self-esteem, confidence, and resilience. They will not have the opportunities to discover their inner strength and their greatness if they keep avoiding, being fearful and not facing their fears head-on. They risk isolating themselves and not participating in activities because of their fear of being hurt, being humiliated, or being laughed at.  And they will seek reassurance, approval, and possibly even become perfectionistic, which is often not a sign of hard work, instead, an indication that they fear to make a mistake or criticism.  Furthermore, they won’t deal well with change, unpredictability, last minute plans, or the “unknown” in general.

ACTION STEP: If we, as parents, suffer from anxiety, we must understand that if we leave it untreated, it can significantly and gravely impact our children. We need to know when to let go and face our fears. We can’t fool our children, they see and feel our anxiety, even if we try to hide it. Our actions will betray us, for children are masters at detecting nonverbal cues. How we respond to situations that cause us fear, worry or anxiety teaches them how to react to situations that make them anxious or fearful as well. Coping is learned by imitation, by trial and error, and by the consequences that shape us. We can’t dismiss or minimize our influence. If your child already has anxiety, seek help and learn together, so that you can both conquer the cycle of fear. 

“Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.”    —- Thich Nhat Hanh

“Life begins where fear ends.”  —-  Osho

“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”  —-  Robert Fulghum

 

Resources

In the list below, I’ve included resources for both parents and children who may suffer from anxiety. These books offer step-by-step strategies on how to overcome anxiety in yourself and your children.

For parents:

For children:

Turn Challenges into Gold

Turn Challenges into Gold

Turn challenges into gold

Caroline Myss is an author, inspirational teacher and healer in the fields of human consciousness, health and spirituality, among other things.

I wanted to share a few of her quotes as food for thought about the impact of challenges and choices in our lives. I briefly comment on them, but the goal is to allow you to rethink how you approach challenges and how these can become growth experiences rather than victimizing experiences.

My goal is always to lead individuals to develop self-awareness to pass on this beautiful gift to their children, friends or family to make this world a better place at an individual and global level.

The more self-aware we become, the less reactive we are. The less reactive we are, the more present we are to what life places in our path, and the more we can live in gratitude and grace.

Let’s start:

“The challenge that each of us is confronted with during our periods of suffering is whether to allow pain to remain at the ego level or whether we can transform our ego pain into a process that strengthens our soul.” — Caroline Myss

This way to face life challenges had supported me through the difficult times such as when my two-year-old was diagnosed with leukaemia and a challenging separation from my husband. After the initial shock, denial and despair, I transformed these emotions by opening my eyes to the possibility of finding the gifts in these situations. Asking myself “what do I need to learn from this” as opposed to “why is this happening to me, to us?”

A second very helpful element was to accept the challenges as opposed to wishing them away or focussing on the past.

Third, I let go of the need to control. Whether it be the need to know that my daughter would be cured, or the need to know what I did wrong, it was futile. No amount of information would give me more control. Instead, I surrendered to the “what is” and decided to live through it and trust that even if I did not know what the future held, that I had no ability to control the future or its outcomes, that whatever would happen would be in my best interest.

Fourth, handling these periods of suffering with the faith that something good would come out of them even if the mind tends to say “What the hell good can come out of a two-year-old having cancer?” I resisted those thoughts as best as I could.

Changing our perceptions about challenges make them more bearable because I know that I will be okay.

Through the difficulties, I also discovered how strong and resilient I am, and I come out of the storms victorious and undefeated. When all else fails, and I am on my knees crying, these simple phrases that Caroline Myss teaches us to use as mantras have carried me through the most difficult times, without fail: “Hover over me, God” and “Man’s rejection is God’s protection”.

“Built into each of our lives are countless challenges that highlight what we fear and what we find difficult to confront. Regardless of what these challenges are, the underlying purpose inherent in every one of these situations is the opportunity to respond in ways that increase our awareness of our own inner strength and power.” — Caroline Myss.

On my life path were placed a multitude of challenges I never thought I had the strength to go through, yet I did. Life has shown me that I am strong beyond belief. I just need to trust.

So when faced with a challenge remind yourself that you have two choices: approach the challenge with fear or love. If you are fearful, you will miss a great opportunity to discover your tremendous inner strength. So don’t resist the difficulty, allow it to pass through you and you will see what I mean. What you resist persists. What you focus on grows. So don’t resist and don’t focus on the bad, focus on the solution and the desired outcome.

“Until you surrender the need to know why things happened to you as they did, you will hold on to your wounds with intense emotional fire.” Caroline Myss

Don’t waste energy trying to figure out why things happened, invest energy in trying to figure out how to get through them. Do not dwell on the past, regrets or resentments. Instead, aim your attention on the future reality or state you want to experience and live it as if it is already a reality. Feel it deeply so that you can allow it to become a reality.

Acceptance is not condoning a wrongdoing. Acceptance enables us to see what is. Only then can we focus on the next steps and not stay stuck. Fighting or resisting what has happened will in no way make it go away or turn back the hands of time. Non-acceptance is futile. It only causes more suffering.

“Every life has a purpose that unfolds amid a journey of endless opportunities. The choices we make, and the underlying motivations that determine these choices, influence the quality of the next opportunity.” Caroline Myss.

You decide if your choices will be made out of fear or guilt, or out of love and faith. Choices based on the former do not usually bring us the outcomes we wish for, but rather place more of the same challenges that feed our fear or guilt.

When faced with opportunities, stop and think before you make a choice. Will you respond in fear/guilt or with love/faith. See your life take a turn for the better.

Choices made in fear or guilt are choices we end up resenting. As a result, these choices will bring about challenging outcomes. It never ends.

Be quiet and if fear creeps up, notice, and let the fear pass. Instead, trust your gut or intuition and see what you would do if you were not scared, and do that! The more you do it and see the endless possibilities, the more the fear will die down.

The outcomes will speak for themselves. As a result, there will be no turning back because you will experience the relief of making choices from an authentic place. And there is no better way to live!

 

The Importance of Self-Esteem for Success

The Importance of Self-Esteem for Success

Child's self-esteem

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Frederick Douglass

“There are two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.”

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Self-esteem is the foundation of a successful, and happy life. It does not matter what kind of expert you listen to, whether it be financial coaches, nutrition coaches, business coaches, health coaches, fitness coaches, parenting coaches, the bottom line is this: they all say that to be successful, people need a healthy amount of self-esteem.

When people love themselves, they take better care of themselves, others and have clear boundaries. They make better choices, are happier, have healthier relationships, and feel empowered. They do not let external circumstances define them; they are self-accepting, less judgmental of themselves and others. They do not feel the need to be people pleasers. They follow their beliefs and values, and not those dictated by others or the media. They defend what they believe in and don’t cave into peer pressure. Most importantly, people with healthy self-esteems know they are deserving of love and respect. They do not tolerate abuse or mistreatment; they walk away from it. They have integrity.

Individuals with healthy self-esteem are not only respectful of themselves, but they are also respectful and empathic to others and the environment. They are not prejudiced, racist, sexist, and do not strive to crush others to elevate themselves. They take on life’s challenges head on and are not victimised by them, thus reducing unnecessary suffering. Moreover, this is what every parent dreams of for their children: the kind of self-love that will carry them through life.

Until we learn to love ourselves, the world will mirror back to us that lack. People with low self-esteem tolerate from others the same kind of mistreatment that they inflict upon themselves. People’s worlds drastically change for the better when they genuinely start to embrace who they are.
To become this kind of adult, it starts at the root of life. Feeding and nurturing the precious stage of infancy and early childhood, and parenting consciously by being fully present. Parents do not fully realise the amount of influence and power they have over elevating or crushing their child’s self-esteem. Parents are too often concerned with external accomplishments and doing (as opposed to just being), and don’t invest as much effort into the actions that feed, foster and maintain a child’s precious self-esteem.
Traditional values of connection, sharing, cooperation, and collaboration have been replaced by messages of consumerism, superficiality, outer achievements as opposed to inner growth. The media and social pressures have cleverly orchestrated these messages and values to do more and have more.
Most of us have a wounded inner child that needs to be healed. On the journey to caring for our child’s self-esteem, we can heal our own. In this sense, our children become our greatest teachers, and we can grow together, side by side. Children are precious and deserving of their birthright to being loved unconditionally. Children are born with healthy self-esteem. It is our duty to make sure it stays this way.

Children with healthy self-esteems are happier, more resilient, self-confident, and able to ward off bullies or negative influences. Children with healthy self-esteems usually have a closer relationship with their parents. They are not afraid of being themselves and open up to their parents because they have been loved unconditionally. These children grow up to become adults with the wonderful qualities I have mentioned earlier.

Raising children with healthy self-esteems is the greatest gift we can offer them. It stems from a strong attachment and being loved unconditionally. Let’s not be short-sighted, lets place the relationship in the forefront and not worry so much about discipline and external achievements. Moreover, keep this in mind when parenting your kids: wouldn’t it be nice if they spoke kindly of you when they become adults and not grow up to be filled with bitterness, and resentments?

I leave you with this song. Pay attention to the lyrics… and ask yourself “will my child speak of me in such kind words when he/she is older?”. I sure hope so.

 

Your child’s self-esteem start with you!

Your child’s self-esteem start with you!

parental self-esteem

Self-esteem is the greatest gift you can offer your child. How to foster a healthy sense of self, resilience and self-confidence in a child is not an easy task. It is not difficult in the sense of how to do it, it is difficult because of where we are today as a society. We have lost our way and forgotten the basic principles of parenting that help us raise children with healthy self-esteems. We have shifted our focus on externals, when really, self-esteem is an inside job. Healthy self-esteem is stable in independent of external accolades and circumstances. People today, all too often define themselves by externals. Thing is, these are fleeting.

The best way to start is a back to basics approach. A return to nurturing each child’s unique needs, and anchoring parenting choices to specific individual and family values. Simple is better, and more sustainable with the busy lives that we lead.

The first and simplest step to take on your journey to raise your child… is to start with you. Yes, you heard me right: YOU (the parent). You have to lead the way.

When you love yourself, you take better care of yourself (physically and emotionally), you make better choices, you are happier, you have healthier relationships, you are empowered, you have healthy boundaries, you don’t let external circumstances define you, you accept yourself fully, you are less judgmental of yourself and of others, and the list goes on and on.

The reason why we start with you, is simple. Children learn best by looking at what you do, rather than listening to what you say. That’s the bottom line. If you can develop true healthy self-esteem, your child has greater chances to follow in your footsteps. There is no way around it. You have to do the work. No short cuts.

So follow me on this journey, and stay tuned.