The number one mental health diagnosis in children right now is anxiety. 99% of the kids I see in my office have anxiety. What’s gone wrong? Has self reliance gone astray? What’s wrong with these kids? Well, actually, nothing’s wrong with them, what is out of whack are today’s school policies, parenting practices, and society’s and the medical establishment’s decisions purely based on fear.
Many schools now, if not all of them, don’t allow kids to play ball, climb trees, go nuts in the playground so they can let off some steam, just in case they could get hurt.
Nowadays, we over sanitize, over vaccinate, over medicate our children. Quick quick, Purell their hands, because God forbid a germ might survive on that awesome barrier we call the skin.
What about eating dirt? Remember those days? We put so much sunscreen, kids are becoming vitamin D deficient instead of learning to be in the sun wisely, i.e. avoiding the peak hours. They don’t walk barefoot outside, they are covered from head to toe, you can barely see their eyes and skin… Why… Because they could have skin cancer!
We almost make them wear helmets to go up and down the stair cases in our houses. It doesn’t stop here. We fight their battles for them, we short circuit strong negative emotions, we give them gifts even if it’s not their birthday because they are jealous of all the attention placed on their sibling. Instead of teaching them to stand up for themselves, we run to the other parent, principle, or child, and fight their battles for them! What about sitting with them and teaching them how to stand up for themselves. What a concept.
I recently heard in a documentary, that when university students fail a class, their parents call the professors and ask for an explanation! This is overprotection pushed to the extreme. Really? Do we need to fight our 18-20 year-old’s battles?
All this is ridiculous if you ask me. Kids aren’t even allowed to redo a grade if they struggle greatly in school and fall behind. We just pass them to the next level and allow the gap to grow further and further.
All this is done in the name of protecting their egos! When in actuality, this strategy backfires and creates exactly what we fear. It creates more hopelessness, more sense of entitlement, low self-esteem and children who can’t cope, can’t resolve a conflict or manage their emotions, even less, stand up for themselves.
A child is best to redo the grade, master what was once a weakness and then move on and excel, instead of carrying over from year to year the difficulty which is compounded by added difficulties, not to mention the stress that this causes on the kid. They know they are behind compared to their class mates, they get IEPs, LSTs, you name it. And schools think is it helping them more than redoing a grade? Please.
I could list pages worth of examples of how parents, and society, overprotect kids, out of fear, by not allowing them to fail, to make mistakes, to get frustrated, to experience inequality or unfairness (well, perceived unfairness), not allowing them to be sad or experience loss. This overprotection has not only weakened their immune system, it has weakened their soul, their spirit, and their resilience, all this in the name of love and protection. It is a misperception.
It is said that, “What we resist persists”. Parents’ inability to face their own emotions of fear or guilt, chase those strong feelings away by hovering over their kids in so many different ways. And here lies the problem. Having a child involves that we need to let go, and with the process of letting go comes fear. But we have to face that fear and be brave. Because let’s face it, danger is present everywhere. It’s a fact of life. It’s inevitable, we will be scared, but if we can’t cope with our own fear how the heck are we supposed to teach our kids to cope with theirs.
Let face it here. Kids learn by imitation and by experiencing life, not by avoiding it or by being lectured about it. It is our responsibility as parents to get a handle on our emotions, and doing so means sitting with the discomfort, knowing that this too shall pass. Do it, so that your kids can learn to do it for themselves. Get your own anxiety in check and learn to cope. BE the courage you wish to see in your children.
Hovering over our kids is a selfish action hidden under the guise that we do it for them. It’s not for them that we do it, it’s for us. We don’t know how to handle their intense emotions, and navigate through them, so we might as well find any strategy possible to avoid the whole thing altogether! It’s a lot easier, for us :-), not them.
And there you go, the perfect recipe to maintain anxiety: Avoidance. Whether it’s avoidance of an emotion, a state, a situation, a thing or a person. Avoidance is so effective at reducing that gnawing feeling in our gut, because… It works. We feel bad, we avoid, we feel better. Pavlov called that reinforcement. This is how anxiety is born and maintained… This is why we have an epidemic of anxious children.
Not allowing kids to experience all the things I have mentioned above, sends them the message that we don’t think they can handle it… Children look up to us, they have entrusted their faith in us that we are these all powerful creatures that know everything, and know what is best for them.
So if we, the parents, don’t trust in our kids’ abilities to thrive and survive, they believe us. Most of these messages are not sent voluntarily or consciously, but they are nonetheless. It is known that 85%, and at times more, of the messages we receive and interpret are non verbal… Words make a minimal contribution to communication and to our understanding of the world. Actions DO speak louder than words.
So parents, you mean well I am sure, but take the leap. Basically, allow your child to experience the richness of life, its ups and downs, or else you rob them of the fullness of their existence. Be there to catch them when they fall, support them, validate them, teach them to grow from the experience instead of being victimized by it.
The reason we can experience joy is because we experience sadness, we experience light because of the darkness, we experience the gifts because of the losses, we experience success because we taste failure.
Action step: This week, sit with YOUR own feelings of fear, guilt, sadness with regard to your child. Remember that the feelings will pass, just like waves on the ocean. Whatever it is you hover over, back off, and see how your child reacts over time Instead, teach them to cope. Use stories, role play, games, conversations, anything. Get into their world, as for their input, help them come up with solutions and then let them go. Let them fight their own battles. Notice, over time, how your child will gain a sense of self competency, self esteem and pride. Just a note: 1) If your child suffers from full blown anxiety, please get help from a qualified clinician. Do not go at this alone. Get help. 2) Use judgment, if your child is a victim of bullying or abuse, he or she WILL need your assistance.